Loving the fiddle

I’ve been working on this watercolor of my friend, Cyndi, holding her fiddle. Finally it’s finished (oops, except for strings. I’m going to add those using chalk).

I don’t have much to say about it right now, except that it took me longer than I expected.

A fiddle is only as good as it plays

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This  fiddle I saw at the Good Old Fashioned Bluegrass Festival. The lady bought it in the 1970s. She thought it was a Vuillaume. Maybe.

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The name Vuillaume could mean anything. It’s like finding a fiddle in your grandmother’s attic, peering through the f-hole and seeing a  Stradivarius label. Probably not a real Strad. Lots of people have made lots of money selling instruments with phony labels. And musicians tend to give their instruments distinguished pedigrees.

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But whatever this fiddle’s ancestry, it is a lovely piece of work, with a beautifully carved scroll, and cunning carved corners on the back, and Celtic-looking purfling. The scroll does place it sometime during the 19th or early 20th century—a time when ornamentation was popular on all things, and ornamented scrolls decked out many fiddles.

I’m not a violin connoisseur, so I didn’t know enough then to look closely at the painting on the back to see if it is inlay, painting, or both.

The most important things about a fiddle are how it feels when you play it, and how it sounds. An instrument can have the beauty of Grace Kelly, but if it shrieks like a toothless angry old witch, then it’s of no use.

The owner of this fiddle treated it with the casual attention you’d give a favored pet. It sat next to her as she sat listening to the music. She carried it around, cradled in her arms. She loved it. She said it had a great sound.

That’s all that’s important.

Music from Quebec sets us dancing

Pierre-Luc Dupuis, accordion and harp player. He's seated in this sketch, but he was just about to stand up and do a little dance.
Pierre-Luc Dupuis, accordion and harp player. He's seated in this sketch, but he was just about to stand up and do a little dance.

One of the reasons we wanted to visit the Port Townsend area was because it is the home of the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, a week long fiddle extravaganza featuring workshops and performances by some of the best traditional musicians in the Americas.

Synchronicity was working in our favor this March. Centrum, the force behind Fiddle Tunes, had hosted a three-day intensive workshop on music from Quebec, and the teachers were three lads who form the group De Temps Antan. Thursday night they played for an old fashioned Québécois-style dance. I’d found out about it before hand and bought tickets. Glad I did; it was sold out.

It was fantastic. These three young men are hot musicians (and easy on the eyes too). This is high-energy music; like good rock music, it forced my feet into motion and I danced sets until I was dizzy. When I got tired of dancing I tried to draw the band, but they were in such constant motion, all I could manage were gesture drawings (tiny because all I had was a tiny note book).

Éric Beaudry was guitarist and rhythm section for the band, keeping time by stamping his feet (called foot clapping or podorhythm).
Éric Beaudry was guitarist and rhythm section for the band, keeping time by stamping his feet (called foot clapping or podorhythm).

After I came home, head still swirling with music, trying to figure out  3/2 rhythms and crooked tunes, and feet still clapping and clattering, I tried to sketch portraits of the lads based on my gesture drawings, and, to be honest, watching them on YouTube videos. I never could get André Brunet, the fiddle player right. He was in constant motion, even more than the other two musicians, and that’s saying something. The box player was fond of standing up and dancing while playing.

I’m just posting the drawings of the accordionist Pierre-Luc Dupuis (seated in this drawing) and the guitar player Éric Beaudry.

Get their cd, or better yet, keep track of where they’re playing and go see them. They’re terrific!