The Fiddler's Role | Bowing Down Home

Fiddlers had a definite role in district life. Whenever there was a dance in the community, it was considered their duty to make themselves available to play. They generally expected no payment for their time and talents, which at least in principle were contributed as expressions of neighborliness. The fiddler’s crucial importance to their communities is put into perspective by Archie Stewart.

Locals with a yen for fiddle-music or dancing would often simply go looking for the fiddler. They might descend upon his home during leisure hours, hoping either to lure him away or start a small dance on the spot. Music-seekers would sometimes approach a fiddler during a work day and ask for a few tunes. Occasionally, Islanders eager to hear music or dance would even roust a fiddler right out of bed,. What’s more, once an event or informal occasion was underway, fiddlers were expected keep on playing as long as the neighbors wished. In fact, fiddlers weary of playing sometimes had to resort to desperate measures to make their escape.

Fiddlers played for house parties, frolics, showers, weddings and other community dances. They appeared at fund-raisers that financed church, school, and other local projects. They had to fulfill these musical responsibilities day in and day out, regardless of their own needs, interests, or state of mind. Despite all these varied duties and responsibilities, fiddling on PEI was not considered a job but merely an amusement. The fiddler's activities may have been absolutely essential to local social life, but in general he or she went unheralded and unpaid. In consequence, most fiddlers were essentially working two jobs, but generally getting paid for one of them.

The financial aspect of fiddling wasn't absolutely bleak. When asked to play outside their communities, for example, fiddlers might indeed expect some recompense – often in the form of form of collected contributions, alcoholic beverages, or other payments in kind. Some were able to earn relatively small fees by playing at commercial dance halls. In fact, fiddlers could often make as much or more from an evening’s playing than from hiring out for a full day's labor on a farm.