Devils, fiddling blacksmiths, admirals, the ubiquitous Sally, mysterious men with swine-like faces, beasts of burden, lines from an old ballad, ancient lands, and battlefield maneuvers can be found in the names of instrumental fiddle tunes. Without lyrics to support them, these tune titles become magical disembodied images that hover over us each time we rest the bow on our violins. Often we can only guess what they mean or how they came to be. The folk process is a multi-faceted and complex state of being. It demands a lot of sleuthing and doesn’t afford us the answers to every inquiry. There are many dead ends. Enter the imagination.
An eternal student of traditional culture and music, I have spent countless hours sitting in my “parlour” and imagining things with my brain. Whether I’m reading the old weird tales of Lord Dunsany, pondering the speculative imagination of Sir James George Frazer, or sonically traveling the world while listening to Pat Conte’s Secret Museum of Mankind collection, I often find myself imagining the real with the unreal. For me, this double fiddle project represents a similar endeavor.
Susan Platz and I have studied the melodies, rhythms and bowing of many great fiddlers both dead and alive. You could call it an obsession. We have also grown fond of the fiddle duets by Dan Gellert & Brad Leftwich, Rafe & Clelia Stefanini, and Tricia Spencer & Howard Rains. And naturally, we love the old Cajun fiddle duets of Dennis McGee & Sady Courville, as well as the duets of modern Cajun fiddlers Joel Savoy & Linzay Young and Michael Doucet & Mitch Reed. However, there is a tremendous dearth of double fiddle recordings from the golden era of “old-time” records. It’s difficult to ascertain how commonplace double fiddling was back in the day. With the handful of double fiddle recordings from Bob Walters, John Summers, Judge Dan White and Jehile Kirkhuff, it’s certainly worth further investigation. This project has allowed us to take inspiration from the aforementioned old-time fiddlers, as well as some of the sounds we love in Cajun, Scandinavian, accordion and bagpipe music. Together we’ve imagined a tapestry of drone and harmony that unites with the old-time tunes and rhythms we love so much. As this is quite possibly the first American old-time fiddle duet album, we hope that we do them justice. Cheers! —David Bragger
This double fiddle collaboration can be traced back to a fateful day in September 2010 when I attended one of David’s workshops at a local festival. Little did I know that he would unlock an undiscovered musical world for me. At that point, I’d played violin all my life and studied voice in school, but had only dabbled in the realm of traditional music. Under David’s mentorship, I was introduced to the haunting, beautiful, driving, and mesmerizing sounds of old-time fiddle music from the likes of Edden Hammons, John Salyer, Ed Haley, Tommy Jarrell, and dozens more. David has passed down these tunes to me aurally, as they have been for hundreds of years. By skillfully distilling the bow patterns used by the old fiddle masters, David educated me on the bowing nuances that create a distinctive old-time energy and drive. He also instilled in me a commitment to preserving these historical capsules by playing them with faithfulness to the source musicians. Double fiddle harmonizing does offer a more newfangled take on traditional old-time music, but it’s not unprecedented. The fiddle duets of old-time Cajun musicians Dennis McGee and Sady Courville stand out as the pinnacle of the fiddle duet art form. Plus, some of the richest and most beautiful harmonies can be found in old-time vocal music. Adding a second “voice” to these fiddle tunes challenged me and allowed me to put a creative stamp on beloved traditional tunes while still honoring the original style. I couldn’t be more thrilled to present this duet album with my musical mentor and collaborator. Special thanks to my parents for their perpetual support and love of music. —Susan Platz