Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

During the Depression, I was fiddling around

There I was, crowded into one corner of a 9-by-12 room with dozens of others crowded into that same 9-by-12, and all but the eight square dancers were looking at me. Even they cast admiring glances in my direction whenever they could spare a minute from their stomping and whirling.

It was the first time they had heard a girl play honest-to-goodness fiddling tunes on an honest-to-goodness fiddle. Oh yes, there was Deweyís oldest girl, who went off to school; she learned to play "Turkey in the Straw," but she learned it out of a book. And it sounded like book-music, too.

"Wal, by gollys," the guitar picker mused between tobacco spats, "it sounds just like them guys ye hear on the radio."

That was a real compliment to my fiddling. All I could do was smile to myself and manufacture some excuse for being there other than that I was an egoist who was more content to be the idol of a crowd of sweaty square dancers than just one of the loafing college seniors back on campus. And I would get half of the rattliní money in the sweaty hat at midnight!

Fiddler I am. I could be teaching grade-schoolers to sing the "Star Spangled Banner," but Iím sawing off "Chicken Reel" over and over again on a valuable instrument that might be playing a Chrysler composition. My instrument ranks with my playing: among the finest in the fiddle world, but subordinate in the world of violins and violinists. When I was in the sixth grade, my parents put forth every effort to make a violinist of me, but Uncle Charlie loved the old hoedowns and urged me to quit practicing scales and learn a real piece, like "Ragtime Annie."

What a surprise it was to Mother when she discovered cheap wire strings on my lovely violin; that was the beginning of its metamorphosis to a regular fiddle. What a surprise, too, when she found that I had tightened my bow into a slightly convex curve and had not unwound it after playing. I was buying regular fiddlerís rosin in the bulk at a hardware store and had given my violinistís rosin to a chum who was still practicing scales.

My violin case was rapidly becoming known as a fiddle box.

I learned that there is an art to this fiddling and that it wasnít all just "a lot of scratching around." There was never a doubt about my art among those people packed into the corners of this room where the floor heaves up and down as the caller pats out the set. Four sweating farmers and four perspiring farmersí wives were having the times of their lives, and I was going over great.

With that, I missed a note and would have lost the beat except for the stamping of dancersí feet. Lucky fellow, too, for a fiddlerís mind canít go off like that. I canít even chew gum and keep on fiddling. Thatís why you canít learn to play square dances from a book.

Every fiddler has his own particular way of bowing a piece, and though it seems to an observer that he is most concerned with the fingering of the left hand, it is actually the bowing that makes the difference between good fiddling and bad. I was once interrupted in the middle of a square dance, and, though my bowing stopped for only a moment, I couldnít pick up the tune and had to begin the piece again. A fiddler does not play with reckless abandon, but with a skill that some violinists never attain.

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