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Dawning of the Day

January 28, 2010

I’ve learned a few things so far in fiddle class, though the most important seems to be the difference between a violin and a fiddle; you don’t spill beer on a violin. This wknd. is the move, and with longer days at work I don’t have much to report. Hopefully next week I’ll be able to learn one of two songs, Egan’s Polka or Dawning of the Day.

This is a world I know virtually nothing about. Here’s a photo of Irish fiddler Michael Coleman. Here’s some brief information:

By the 1920’s the recording industry was taking off in America, and the new recording companies knew that there was a ready market for music representing all the different ethnic groups still flooding into the country. First off the block was fiddler Patrick Clancy, who in 1919 recorded four medleys for the Victor Talking Machine Company. Also among the first, and certainly the most influential Irish fiddler to join this trend was Michael Coleman.

He was a highly gifted fiddler, his Sligo style highly ornamented and expressive. Along with others such as James Morrison and Paddy Killoran, he put down 78RPM recordings of fiddle with (often ham-fisted) piano accompaniment, and sometimes with other instruments such as pipes, banjo, accordion  or flute. This new combination of instruments, along with the time limitations of the 78’, meant that the old idea of extended repetition with variations was a thing of the past.

Snappy arrangements were created with maybe two tunes each played twice through. These recordings were hugely popular both in America and back in Ireland. Their significance in terms of the development of Irish fiddling was huge. Here suddenly was a standardized format of style, arrangement and repertoire which was available not just to the audience at a céilí or fair, but to thousands, musicians and non-musicians alike.

The downside was that the “New York style”- an amalgamation of all Irish styles (but, due to the towering presence of Michael Coleman with a strong bias towards Sligo), began to erode and eventually largely destroy the huge and diverse patchwork quilt of styles that had developed across Ireland. Almost everyone who heard these recordings saw the future of Irish music staring them in the face, and that was how they wanted to play from now on. The upside was that a new generation of fiddlers could learn not just at their father’s knee, but from the exciting and invigorating music of master musicians. Fiddlers found a new pride and respect for what was rapidly becoming seen as a performance art, worthy not just of the kitchen but perhaps of the concert hall as well.

*Taken from Fiddling Around. Thanks for reading, you unlucky few.

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