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creative output of folk fiddlers

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greg stephens 08 Apr 03 - 11:49 AM
smallpiper 08 Apr 03 - 12:00 PM
greg stephens 08 Apr 03 - 12:04 PM
GUEST,Les B. 08 Apr 03 - 01:28 PM
Lynn W 08 Apr 03 - 02:58 PM
greg stephens 08 Apr 03 - 03:29 PM
Lynn W 09 Apr 03 - 03:32 PM
Lynn W 09 Apr 03 - 03:38 PM
greg stephens 12 Apr 03 - 06:44 PM
Bassic 12 Apr 03 - 07:48 PM
greg stephens 13 Apr 03 - 03:01 AM
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Subject: creative output of folk fiddlers
From: greg stephens
Date: 08 Apr 03 - 11:49 AM

I have just been indulging in a little idle speculation. The question is, about how many tunes did your bog-standard fiddler actually make up? Trouble is, where do you start making even a ball-park estimate. Let's say, just to take England as an example, that we look at say 1600-1900 as the period in which the vast majority of the traditional fiddle repertoire was created. At a guess, there are something of the order of 10,000 tunes written down/recorded in some other way. But that's only a very vague guess. Anyone care to make a better guess? And then we'd have to guess, how many tunes were made up, but didnt get far enough or last long enough to actually make it into a note-book or publication(or did make it on to paper, but the paper hasnt survivrd).
   And then we need to know how many fiddlers operated in that period. Judging by diaries, farmers accounts, newspapers etc etc there must have been something like one fiddler per village as a rough rule of thumb. Perhaps 1% of the population?? Which adds up to a lot of fiddlers over three hundred years. But how many? A thousand, or a hundred thousand, at any one time?   And if there were a thousand at any one time, how many does that make in 300 years?
   The floor is yours. My guess is that there were many many more fiddlers than tunes, but the figures might be of the same vague order of magnitude.


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Subject: RE: creative output of folk fiddlers
From: smallpiper
Date: 08 Apr 03 - 12:00 PM

This requires hard sums! but the answer is lots and lots and lots


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Subject: RE: creative output of folk fiddlers
From: greg stephens
Date: 08 Apr 03 - 12:04 PM

Well I've got as far as "lots and lots and lots" myself!


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Subject: RE: creative output of folk fiddlers
From: GUEST,Les B.
Date: 08 Apr 03 - 01:28 PM

Greg - good question. One way to start might be to figure out how many tunes a fiddler had/has in their repertoire. Some fiddlers I know play several hundred. On the other hand, friends tell me about an old street fiddler they met in Ireland who seemed to know only two tunes - but played them really well! I'd guess you could figure a seasoned fiddler would average a hundred tunes.

The one fiddler I know who plays several hundrend tunes, has, to my knowledge, originated only two or three of his own. And he doesn't play those very often. As fiddle tunes go, they're just OK, even though he's an excellent old-time fiddler. I think making a tune that has a quick appeal to the ear and will last into tradtion is harder to do than one might expect.

Anyway, I'm thinking it's probably less than one percent of a repertoire that is original material ???


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Subject: RE: creative output of folk fiddlers
From: Lynn W
Date: 08 Apr 03 - 02:58 PM

I suspect the vast majority of fiddlers, as today, just played tunes they had picked up from somewhere else (which they may have amended slightly, but that's another matter!) Greg, you may be interested in a fiddler's manuscript book I have from about 1805, probably North Yorkshire or thereabouts which I have scanned and put up as a webpage for people to look at. (I think you said somewhere else that you do not have full internet access so send me a PM if you would like me to email you a tune list). There is a tune list and a scan of each page (which may take a while to load as I wanted them to print out at a decent quality).
Click here
From the way the tunes are written (mistakes etc) it looks like he was learning them by ear and writing them down from memory. I don't think there are any original tunes in the book although there are one or two I still have to find elsewhere.
Lynn


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Subject: RE: creative output of folk fiddlers
From: greg stephens
Date: 08 Apr 03 - 03:29 PM

Lynn thanks a lot for displaying that tune book... I could read it OK. Does the Village Music Project have a copy of this, I'm unfamiliar with it. I have to say I think I disagree with you about the tunes having been written down by the owner of the book having learned them by ear. I havent looked at all of the tunes, but I've glanced at some, and I would guess a fair amount are copied from printed sources. however, this is a very difficult area to make judgements in, and you have to weigh up a lot of evidence. You may perfectyly well be right, and I may be talking rubbish. I'll have a browse at the rest!
    Anyway, join in the fun . Make a few guesses. how many fiddlers in England, 1600-1900? And what was the average number of tunes composed by each fiddler? Wild guesses. or carefully thought out estimates backed up by sound evidence: all are equally welcome!


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Subject: RE: creative output of folk fiddlers
From: Lynn W
Date: 09 Apr 03 - 03:32 PM

You may well be right about the tunes being copied from printed sources - I am certainly no expert on such things. The reason I had thought that they were learned by ear was that the sort of mistakes which were made (e.g Royal Review should surely be in 9/8 -no time signature is given but it is barred as 6/8?) were the sort of mistakes I have made myself when trying to write down tunes from memory so I just jumped to the conclusion he was doing the same. The book is not in the VMP list but I did email a couple of people there when I got the book and posted a link to the website on the tradtunes list. If you are interested, I have another tunebook (of which VMP have a copy)on a website at click here
This is keyboard rather than fiddle I think.
The whole question of who wrote the tunes is fascinating but almost too big to think about - it makes my head hurt! Wild guesses are more in my line than sound evidence but I think that firstly, a lot of the tunes were probably written by few people. This would include printed sources such as ballad operas and musical plays - most of the tunebooks I have seen have some of these. I am sure you are right that a lot of tunes were copied down from printed sources (such as Oswald's Caledonian Companion)although I have no idea where most of those tunes came from originally. If you think of tunes that are played in sessions today, where we know the writers, the same tune writers come up for lots of tunes - I am thinking of the likes of James Hill, Ed Reavy, Sean Ryan etc. I am trying to think of a popular tune written by someone who only wrote the one tune, but I can't think of one at the moment, although there must be lots I'm sure. If we accept that a lot of tunes were transmitted by printed sources, this would also favour people who had written a lot of tunes I think - it certainly does nowadays. Tunes written by your average village fiddler would have a harder time being spread about, especially as a lot of fiddlers would not "give" their special tunes to others as unusual tunes were part of their attraction. I heard on an old-time record, Emmett Lundy I think, "he wouldn't show me the tune but I catched it off him"! So, I think there must have been many tunes written that didn't last. It would be interesting to know how many tunebooks in the VMP contain tunes that are unique to one book, not a big proportion I think.
It's a fascinating topic and I could go on at great length (you already have, I hear you say!)but must go for the moment. If you haven't looked at the EASMES site you would find it very interesting for this sort of thing. Early American music and its European Sources,
loads of tunes indexed by first 2 bars click here
Lynn


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Subject: RE: creative output of folk fiddlers
From: Lynn W
Date: 09 Apr 03 - 03:38 PM

Oops! wrong link - that was an earlier version!
Try this


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Subject: RE: creative output of folk fiddlers
From: greg stephens
Date: 12 Apr 03 - 06:44 PM

Well I've been giving this a bit more thought and reckon there might have been half a million fiddlers in England 1600-19900. If they only wrote one tune a piece that's half a million tunes. But I doubt if ten thousand tunes have come down to us. Wonder what the others were like?


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Subject: RE: creative output of folk fiddlers
From: Bassic
Date: 12 Apr 03 - 07:48 PM

Probably quite simmilar to the 10,000 we have got!


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Subject: RE: creative output of folk fiddlers
From: greg stephens
Date: 13 Apr 03 - 03:01 AM

Yes, but there might be one even more catchy than Soldiers Joy: catchy, but never caught on. And all the wierdy ones in the Phrygian mode that dropped out because major key tunes became popular...but think how trendy they'd be now among the bright young things on the cover of Folk Roots. But I'd like some assistance with guessing. I'm not at all confident about 500,000 fiddlers and 10,0000 tunes that have come down to us.


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