Odd combination, I know, but bear with me a minute. First of all, I gotta address the first one. DAMN this summer has been fecking hot. I am a desert rabbit by nature, born and raised in the US Southwest, and bumming around outside all day during the summer was a cornerstone of my childhood. That being said, we’ve had WAY too many 115+ days lately.
Y’all out there, drink some water, remember your sunscreen, and stay inside as much as possible while the sun is up..
Now. Why global warming and kryptonite? Well, I’m going to be real, this heat saps literally every ounce of will to go and learn or do something that’s more complicated than making a cold drink and perhaps killing some pixels (maaaan Diablo 4 season 1!!). Tackling a musical genre that isn’t written or really meant for violin when your brain is cooked to mush, and this last month has been hard y’all, but it’s been a struggle.
Music is a huge part of every day for me, and for listening I hit just about everything, from classical to scream-o, Wardruna to BTS. It’s so hard not to listen to music and be hearing a fiddle counterpoint or descant line that I use nature sounds or something similar when sleep eludes me. What my kryptonite on music is learning a song where a combination of the genre and the key (or changing key signatures) doesn’t lend well to fiddle.
Anyone mind if I get a little geeky/technical? Because all keys, well, they are not made equal when talking to violins, or really any of the vaguely fiddle-shaped instruments. Add too many sharps or flats and the instrument doesn’t ring true. There’s not that lovely tone left behind when the note changes, the harmonics that carries between the strings are muted, less. From a strictly mechanical standpoint, it’s where the bits and pieces inside the fiddle *are* in relation to the strings that cause the resonance, that lovely ringing. So, to get even nerdier, the sound post, one of those little bits inside the fiddle is positioned right under the “A” string is specifically positioned to resonate WITH keys that use the open strings, or notes that cause a sympathetic vibration TO those open strings.
TL;DR, too many sharps and flats and the fiddle don’t sound good.
Now, I can hear someone in the back row asking “Well, why don’t you tune the fiddle to that key?” Now you can, and I have, largely to mess with bagpiper’s heads (Sorry, not sorry James), but honestly, the way the violin is built really leans hard into the ‘normal’ way that the modern fiddle is tuned. A half-step off that, from the “440-A) to the b-flat that bagpipes are tuned to for instance, and the sound gets…weird. It kinda falls into that audible uncanny valley that something is off but you can’t really put your finger on what. It works, it’s doable, but it is weird. Also, unless you want to carry around multiple fiddles, it’s impractical. Re-tuning a violin is not as easy as a guitar or anything else with gear-pegs. Most violins have just straight pressure-held wooden tuning pegs. And those, my friends, and finicky creatures when it comes to staying put some days.
SO. For those of you that made it to the live recording concert you know this, but we have been working on a song that’s original key(s) are in several of those not-good-for-fiddle keys. Now, for a variety of reasons we’ve moved that key around, but it’s still a VERY difficult piece to learn. For a lot of reasons. Not the least of which is that there ISN’T actually a fiddle in the piece originally, and the parts I’m covering? Harmonica, harpsichord, and Cyndi Lauper. So the whole melodic line is geared towards instruments that have a different set of sympathetic harmonics than the violin, and in one case arguably more tonal range.
Which comes to the second part of the kryptonite. I abhor disappointing people and not meeting expectations. Especially my own, and let me tell you, I set higher ones than most other people, and definitely set higher ones for myself than I do for others (working on that part). And this song? Was kicking my entire ass. It wasn’t ringing, I couldn’t get the notes to flow, it sounded choppy, hesitant, and wouldn’t for the life of me sync with what Paul was doing on the guitar. FOR A YEAR. I really felt like I was failing everyone. The band, Brian, who REALLY wanted this song to be covered. It hits a lot of feels and has a lot of meaning for him, and I was stoked to be part of that. I just wasn’t finding that groove. I was letting him, the band, all of whom I care a LOT about, down and it was crushing.
But like Superman, you gotta find a way around that Kryptonite. My way was the realization that the fiddle is never going to sound or act exactly like a harmonica, no matter what I did. It isn’t supposed to. More, tweaking the melodic line that I was trying to mimic exactly to something that sounded good on the fiddle turned the song that was already starting to sound pretty good into ours. Something that was uniquely Open Beta, and couldn’t be mistaken for anyone else’s version. Those that got to hear it already seemed to think it was pretty good, and we’ll definitely be playing it out more at future gigs. Am I don’t tweaking the fiddle part? HA, no. Honestly I’m always adjusting the fiddle riffs in our songs, and this one is no different.
Welp, that was a long ramble…I think I’m going to wander off now. Catch y’all later!