It was a scorching hot day in August. The smell of fried everything and cow manure hung in the air. I was four years old sporting pigtails and a miniature stuffed toy I’d won by recklessly demolishing a row of ducks with a squirt gun at a carnival game. An afternoon of competitive bird calling and life sized cows made of butter awaited. I was at the Iowa State Fair, and having what was up to that point, probably the best day of my life.
This, believe it or not, was the backdrop to the moment when the seed was planted and I knew I would play the violin. I could hear it before I saw it: a riotous cacophony of guffaws, shrieks, and the sawing of a violin. A mother-daughter clownish comedy duo had the stage, and sure enough, that wonderful and wretched sound rang vibrantly from a rosin-caked fiddle. I was in love.
After about 30 seconds of slack-jawed awe, I told my surprised mother that I needed to play the violin immediately. Years later she told me that she had no idea what to do with a four year old who aspired to play the fiddle in a clown show. Buy a plastic toy violin? Hope that I would get distracted with some other activity and just forget? Luckily for me, in a few short weeks she found me a wonderful teacher who would teach me the violin in a classical tradition.
I’ll always remember that fateful day, and it seems that despite over two decades of playing the violin, I’ll always have a yearning to play the fiddle. The differences between the classical tradition and that of the fiddle are pretty stark, and I have to admit that I have a long ways to go in doing this style justice. The lilting phrases, seamless decorations, and rickshaw bow action are among the techniques that are most important and most different from the classical styles. I know a few violinists/fiddlers who can achieve both deftly, but that’s a rarity.
When I have a lull in repertoire to learn, I like to take advantage of the extra time and dictate pieces that are in different styles. With its determined melody whose tones ring bittersweet, this march is one of my favorites. It’s a Scottish tune written by Tommy Hughes, and I hope you enjoy.