Tuesday, April 19, 2005

First Gigs

I say “gig” with a little tongue in cheek. I have never played a gig. I have just played in front of people and have tried to get comfortable with that. I soon realized, during my first few lessons that I could play a tune reasonable well on my own, but could not play well even in front of my instructor. I would choke. I would get stage fright and not even be on stage. Although I had decided that I was to play fiddle for my enjoyment only, I realized that I had to at least be able to play for other people at some times.

I therefore planned to to try and take every opportunity to play in front of people. My first “gig” was our annual Christmas party at home with about 20 friends and family present. I had picked 3 tunes, a reel, a jig and a waltz, St Anne’s Reel, The Irish Washerwoman and County Waltz. I had played these tunes hundreds of times, on average three times a day for almost 2 years. I could play them reasonably well, not quite up to full speed, but the most important skill I learned was to keep going no matter what. I realized that no one would really know if I had made a mistake, if I just kept going.

Well my first “gig” went well. Yes I did make mistakes, but I did keep going. My playing was met with applause and congratulations It was a success. However there was a great danger at this point, and that danger is to start to think you are good. My friends compliments were probably because they were surprised that their old buddy could play rather than because he was playing well. My wife realised this danger or perhaps she just knew my real level. She wisely insisted that three tunes was enough and that I should only play two or three tune at subsequent gatherings.

So that is what I continued to do. I played two or three tunes at our house when friends visited. I rarely took my fiddle to other houses, as I did not want to impose. I did this a few times but this was rare. I figured people coming to my house were fair game. The purpose of playing was to get comfortable playing in front of people rather that to be entertaining.

My biggest Gig yet.
Last Christmas, my wife and I were invited to one of her client’s houses for Christmas cocktails. During that week I had been practicing a lot in readiness for our own Christmas get together. Going out the door I had jokingly remarked that I should bring my fiddle, but in reality I did not want to impose myself on complete strangers. Especially not a lot of complete strangers.

The hostess had a large house and had filled it with 150 to 200 people. She had caterers offering trays of great nibbly finger food and wine. But what really made me happy were the two musicians playing Christmas and light music on the piano and fiddle. Or in this case I should say violin. As soon as I stepped in the door, the party was a hit for me.

Needless to say, we went up to the duo and requested some of our favorite Newfoundland or Irish jigs and reels. Although this was not their area of specialty, the duo did know a couple and played them. We of course thanked them and some where in the conversation; I had told the violinist that I was learning the fiddle.

Just before their break, the violin player asked my if wanted to play. I was taked aback and immediately refused as there were 200 people in attendance and I had never done that before. But deep in my heart I wanted to. Therefore when he asked a second time and my wife encouraged me, I took up the offer. In retrospect, I find it hard to believe that I did it, but I had been practicing hard for the last week and I guess it just seemed to fit. I played St. Anne’s Reel and Irish Washerwoman and the piano player backed me up. I followed Jim Morrison’s style and played with my back to the crowd. They only way I could do it were if I pretended to by just playing for myself. I played the tunes reasonably well, almost to speed and although I made a few mistakes I just kept going.

Later in the afternoon, the fiddle player again handed me his fiddle. This time I did not refuse and played Cock of the North and Connaughtman’s rambles. To my surprise I got the crowd going a bit and even got some applause. I was quite delighted as these were not my friends who were merely surprised to see their old friend doing something new. This was a true audience. I got another surprise compliment through my wife a few days later. The party hostess thought that I was better than the hired musician. I was flattered to say the least, and it encouraged in my playing. However I know for a fact who the better fiddle player was, and it was not me.


Anonymous said...

Linked to your site from the session, I'm from Ottawa too, what a small world!!! If you are interested, there is a fiddle camp in early June in Manotick that's great, check it out at sherrylfitzpatrick.com I went last year and had a great time!

Michael said...

Once you play for a crowd, you're hooked! (Or vow to take up fishing instead of fiddling.)

I took classical lessons for a couple of years when I took up the fiddle after playing tons of guitar and mandolin. It was good discipline, but not my thing.

Anyway, I had to play a recital, which is part of the ritualized torture of studying violin. My teacher was nice enough to suggest I play some Irish music instead of a Bach piece and to bring a friend to accompany me instead of the pianist she had lined up.

I was way nervous, this being my fiddling debut (though I'd played guitar in plenty of bar bands). I sat and listened to the people ahead of me, some very good, some beginners. When it was my turn, the mandolinist I'd brought and I did a set that was, I now know, pretty bizarre -- a couple of reels, a jig or two, a hornpipe, all run together the way you'd play a set of three jigs or reels at a session...

And ... people loved it. There's just something about Irish / Scottish / Celtic / Cape Breton / etc. music. You can get at it at a pretty rudimentary level and still entertain people!

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