NAFCO, the North Atlantic Fiddle Convention 2010 was held in Aberdeen last week. This was the first time I had attended the Convention although two others have been held in Aberdeen and a couple overseas too. The Convention covers a wide range of activities, a conference, workshops both music and dance, concerts and ceilidhs, and not forgetting sessions.
I attended three workshops, the first two were to do with learning new tunes, by ear and by learning techniques to memorise a tune from the music script. Both were great. The first tutor was Carley Williams and the tune to be picked up was 'The Road to Banff'. But no fiddle was required initially only the voice. Carley's no.1 starting tip, learn to sing the tune out loud. Not the whole tune but measure by measure. So, as a group we repeated back and forth with Carley the first measure. The structure of a tune often follows a pattern, first question, first answer (second time round might have first answer part b) and second question, second answer (again second time through the second answer might have an answer b, or even repeat a previous part of a tune). With this new insight, the fiddles were tucked under the chin. And the same process was repeated, a section at a time was repeated between the group and the tutor until the first measure was put together. Then the second measure was tackled. Could we remember the first measure after reaching the end? It was time to find out. OK, not every note but not bad effort, sounded good as a group.
Learning from sheet music was the next workshop. James Alexander was the workshop tutor and he started by pointing out some gernalism about the structure of tunes and how to find certain bars that were easier to memorise, e.g. a scale run. If you could remember these then the rest of the tune could be built around that or many years down the line after not playing a tune that bar might ignite the rest of the tune back to life. Again the same technique was used. Tutor played a section, the group played and eventually the tune was completed. Along that journey James shared technique, bowing to finger placement, even the benefits of practicing a tune at half speed. Then we had some time to learn about improvisation. Techniques that help learn new tunes but also how to contribute to a session while learning a tune. I'm not all the savvy with musical theory so learning about Chord, counting to 5 notes to the fifth chord and then using the arpeggio notes to. The key being to add to the rhythm of the tune and to play quietly i.e. not over sound the main tune. Other main take away, was to trust the ear, if it sound good, it will generally but a good addition to the tune. A great workshop again.
The third workshop was to put some of that learning in to practice, learning a brand new retreat march, a pipe march. Carol Anderson was the workshop tutor this time and learning to play pipe style was the theme of the class. But first the tune had to be learnt. By ear was the technique, building the tune bar by bar. Ok, we did this for this first measure and then we started the learning about how to make the March sound more Pipe like. Adding grace notes was the first step, but where and what note or notes? Carol started with the basic, not above or below or the note before. The goal to find that pipe like 'drone' or spirit via the fiddle. Finding a tame piper was recommended. The music was then handed out, a 9/8 march, no key signature in pipe music. The grace notes were indeed along the lines Carol mention, however, the piper can get in 4 grace notes and what would be across 2 strings on the fiddle, which requires amazing skill at speed and thus need to be tackled in a different manner. A triplet or burrell can be used but not with a loose wrist as normally taught but with a stiff bow arm, right up to the shoulder so the bow sort of vibrates of the string to bring out a pipe like character. One to be practice alone until mastered. In this style of march two the main beat would often be in the middle of a bar and each bar would start down bow, up bow alternative, unlike the 2/4 4/4 down bow to start each new bar.
There was much more learning shared over all three workshops. Hopefully, I can put all the teaching to make me fiddle better.
Overall, a great 5 days. From opening the Woodend Barn concert with Banchory Starthspey and Reel Society to a 3am session at the Bluelamp. The organisers laid on the best of events.