For those of you who have attended my workshops, you know that I spend much of the time on bowings. If you are new to the fiddle itself, or are learning a different style, you know how difficult incorporating certain bowing patterns can be. It’s all about coordination – when you learn a new melody and try to incorporate the bowings of a specific style that you are not used to, it can be really tricky at first to work in new bowings and keep the melody together. Recently at one of my workshops, one student, while I was going through the bowings of a tune asked, ‘why does this matter?’
In my experience teaching Cape Breton music, most students tend to be concerned with grace notes to make their playing sound more within the style. While there are grace notes specific to certain fiddle styles, it is really the bowings that set the styles apart. Bowings create a way of phrasing a melody. I can play a specific passage of a tune bowing single stroke (one note per bow), bowing two notes per bow, etc. I can use my bow to articulate a passage in a certain way; I can slur two or more notes making it sound smooth, or I can still put two notes in the same bow and yet make them sound separate and choppy. Common bowing patterns can be identified in any style that are specific to that style.
So it is these specific bowing patterns that make a tune sound Cape Breton, Irish, or Oldtime. In Cape Breton fiddling for example, a lot of the time the bow is on a down bow for the pulse of a tune, especially in a strathspey. If you are constantly on an upstroke on the pulse, you will feel like you are bowing ‘upstream’ and you will not sound much within the style. However, it’s not just the bow direction that matters. How much emphasis you place on a note or a group of notes also creates a certain phrasing along with the bowing pattern. All of this is style specific. And that is why bowing matters.
With my erratic summer schedule behind me, I’m now settling into the fall which means more consistent blog posts! I thought I would begin with a short post to make you aware of some resources that will inform you more about Cape Breton and its music and places you may want to see if you have the opportunity to visit.
http://www.celticheart.ca This is a relatively new site that I have become aware of. It contains great information about festivals, workshops, and other events and venues in Cape Breton as well as other information that can help plan your trip there. You can also find great blog posts about Gaelic culture in Cape Breton contributed by Gaelic instructor Angus MacLeod and musician Tracey Dares MacNeil.
http://www.celtic-colours.com The Celtic Colours International Festival is one of the largest best known Celtic Festivals in the world. Over 9 days in October, Cape Breton musicians join Celtic musicians from all over the world to perform in concerts and other events. About 5 concerts take place each night in various communities across the island. Each night, everyone gathers at the Festival Club at the Gaelic College in St Ann’s to enjoy music in a more informal setting. The festival begins traditionally on the Friday before Canadian Thanksgiving.
http://www.celticmusiccentre.com The Celtic Music Interpretive Centre is located in Judique Cape Breton. This is a great place to drop in to learn more about Cape Breton music. The center offers live demonstrations where Cape Breton musicians talk about the music they are playing. The center also houses an extensive amount of archival material including photographs, videos, and recordings. Each Wednesday evening and Sunday afternoon, you’ll catch a live performance of a well known Cape Breton fiddler.
http://www.gaeliccollege.edu/ In addition to being the central location for the Celtic Colours International Festival, the Gaelic College offers workshops all summer long in fiddling, piping, step dancing, Gaelic language among other disciplines. Throughout the year, the College also offers Gaelic TIP (Total Immersion Plus) weekends.