Toole, Stephen - What makes a good fiddler? | Bowing Down Home



ST – Stephen Toole

KP – Curator Ken Perlman

ST Well, I think that there has to be music in you, yes. I've known people that are trying to play the fiddle, but I know very well that they'll never be able to play.

KP What tells you that?

ST Well, you can just pretty near judge that type of person.

KP By what?

ST Just by their actions for ‑- You can say to yourself, "well, you might as well give it up". You wouldn't say it to them: "You'd never be able to play the fiddle." A lot of the times, it's true.

KP Now, is it that you watch them handle the fiddle, and you say that they'd never play, or is it something that you know about just the way that they are in daily life?

ST Well, probably the music is not in them, to start with. And they may be able to read some music, but then along with reading the music, you have to have a rhythm of some sort in you. And you have to have the timin’ and I don't know – These people would never learn to play the fiddle.

KP What do you think makes a good fiddler? I mean, if you were listening to a fellow playing, "That fellow's making a really good job of that tune." What is it about their playing that makes you think this?

ST Well, their timing is one thing. Good timing is the main thing in playing. I've known people that learned to play the fiddle, and if they start to play with a piano - Whether the piano player was a good player or not; they might have learned to play the fiddle, but they couldn't learn to keep time with the piano player. I've heard them. And once they'd get off time that was it, they couldn't get back on to it. But sometimes you might get off time a little, but you'd pick your time up, or you'd make a little mistake – You always sometimes playing for dances you'd make a little mistake, you'd get back onto your tune again.

KP What else makes a good fiddler, besides timing?

ST Well, he has to know a good selection of tunes. Dance tunes. Has to be able to play a good selection of tunes: jigs, and reels, and waltzes. You could know a hundred jigs; you could know a hundred reels and hornpipes. You mightn't be able to play them all to perfection. Another good judge of a good fiddler, is fairly lively. Too slow is no good. Too slow a music is no good for a square dance. You know that yourself. You have to be lively. You have to know a good selection of tunes, and you have to have good timing. That's three of them.

KP Can you think of anymore?

ST Well, sometimes you have to be fairly generous, too (laughs).

KP Generous?

ST People wanting you to play for showers and parties, and probably have no money, or something like that.

KP So you think that being a good fiddler includes being generous with your talent?

ST Well, sometimes they are, yeah. Sometimes they won't let a person down if they know ‑ well them people's have no money to pay for the shower, or something like that. Yeah well, there's dance time. You take Island music here and Cape Breton music. It's, they say, it's about the same dance time, like, it’s the same stride and swinging. You can't swing – They swing around in dances. And you can't swing to too fast a tune, just a medium speed, you know.