This week has seen a lot of playing. I am working on bowing and timing. I am playing some amazing Shetland pieces - some of the oldest we have. They are both tunes from the West side of Shetland. The fiddler was an important person and used to play at all the social events - especially weddings. There would always be a bridal tune played to escort the bride from the church to the house and then wedding dances. There were even bedding tunes - yes bedding tunes. The fiddler was the only person allowed in the room, other than the bride and groom (who would be in their box bed with the curtains drawn presumably).
The wedding tunes for processions would be quite slow as everyone would be tramping across the countryside. Weddings would sometimes be slightly sad. Daughters would often be moving quite a long way from home.
The second tune, Da Muckle Reel o' Finnigirt is an old dance tune and has impossible timing, with changes in time signature but an underlying pulse all through. It has been notated from the playing of Peter Fraser (Shetland Fiddler) who grew up on the West Coast of Shetland. It is VERY close to Norwegian hardanger music and sounds a bit strange when you first hear it. It has seven parts - lots of different motifs which repeat. The original dance involved travelling parts and not dancing in pairs.
I found these tunes during the summer (from Catriona MacDonald, also from the West coast of Shetland). Coincidentally I met a dancer/fiddler, Jane Harrison there whose father collected dances. She sent me his notes from a meeting her Dad had with Peter Fraser in 1959. What a piece of history! This sets out the dance - which has not been regularly performed since about 1880 when Peter Fraser's grandfather died. This was because when someone died there would be no dancing in the house for about four years and Peter Fraser's house was where the dances were held in those days. If it wasn't performed there it probably wouldn't be at all. It has never really been revived since this lapse. The notes actually say that the tune gradually quickens throughout. That is not particularly how I was taught it by Catriona. Jane thinks she has an old tape recording of Peter Fraser playing the tune which she is gong to try to dig out. Amazing!
Both tunes are played very smoothly on long bows and feel tricky, trills, doublestopping and the issue of whacky timing - or more properly an irregular meter?