Mar 022009

Yesterday I spent the day at a fiddle workshop taught by Alan Jabbour. The workshop was held in a friendly fiddler’s home in NW DC, and it was a great day of music.

Alan is a great southern fiddler who has learned directly from older musicians, who in turn learned from the generation preceding them. He has a long career of studying the style of Appalachian fiddle music. He also has a broad knowledge of the history behind the music as well as its more general cultural context. His stories and introductions to tunes are fascinating, so get to his performances if you get the chance.

Alan taught twelve of us fiddlers sitting in a big circle. He teaches by ear and demonstration, and he rarely even names notes. It is great playing with a group of experienced fiddlers in a learning setting like this, because everyone can keep up. The whole group can get the basics of a tune in twenty to thirty minutes. Alan taught us nine tunes in about six hours, which is a mind-scrambling but exhilirating pace.

Alan’s fiddle style is pleasant and sweet, and then it can turn sassy and rowdy. He gives the music its full due by serching for tasteful embellishments, syncopations, and variations. The music doesn’t fall into monotonous formulas, which is the sign of an immature or dogmatic old-time musician. Instead, an artistic fiddler like Alan seeks for something to catch the listener’s ear or to lift the dancer’s foot.

Yesterday I also purchased a copy of Alan’s new book of fiddle tune transcriptions. The book has a tune on the left page with style and technical notes on the facing page. The tunes are transcribed with variations, syncopations, bow markings, anticipations, drones, and all the rest. It is a study in Appalachian style, not just a book to add tunes to your repertoire. I can’t wait to dig into this book, just to get more of this sweet sound into my playing.

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