Thoughts on the ‘Up-Driven’ Bow in Cape Breton Fiddling
The up-driven bow is a term that is thrown around quite a bit in Scottish and Cape Breton fiddling. If you have read anything about Scottish fiddling, you’ll most certainly come across references to the powerful up-bow of Neil Gow. According to James Hunter (The Fiddle Music of Scotland), it was his favorite bow stroke.
The up-driven bow as described in older Scottish collections is a type of bowing mostly found in strathspeys that looks like this:
Excerpt from ‘The Braes of Mar’
The first note is on a down stroke and the last three are on an up stroke. Of the three notes that are in the up bow, the second is pulsed, meaning that extra pressure is applied and it is accented. The third note is detatched. In Cape Breton, this bowing is used most commonly in melodic phrases where the first two notes of the up stroke are the same note.
Even though the up-driven is a commonly talked about feature of the Cape Breton style, I don’t hear it much in this form. I do remember Sandy MacIntyre teaching this as an ‘old style bowing’ when I was student at the Gaelic College. However, there are common bowing patterns in the style that use strong up bows. One of the more common of these bowings is one that I refer to as a ‘shuffle bow’ like pattern that is very common in reels:
Excerpt from ‘Hamish the Carpenter’
Excerpt from ‘West Mabou’
In these examples, the upstroke occurs on either beat 1 or beat 3 which is are the strong beats in the measure, or the pulse. The up-bowed slur in the first example and the up-bowed quarter notes and slur in the second example are very emphazied by using a lot of bow and some extra pressure. The upstroke is especially powerful and makes the melody sound very lifted and lively. A lot of the time, Cape Breton fiddlers are on a down stroke for a pulse. Having the pulse on this upstroke creates a varied and very powerful phrasing.
Even though it seems that technically the term up-drivin bow refers to the strathspey bowing in the first example, this latter bowing and others that have a strong up bow on a pulse is what I like to think of as an up-drivin bow in the Cape Breton style.