I Bought A Fiddle
By Dan King
I bought a fiddle.
‘Twas a strange-looking animal, much smaller than the guitars I had slung around since the fifth grade. Smaller, four strings instead of six, and tuned upside-down in comparison to the bottom four strings on my guitars.
It also came with one of the biggest, funniest looking guitar picks I had ever seen! It was wood, about two feet long, and they said it had horse hair on it.
I hoped I wasn’t allergic.
I took my new prize home and commenced to playing it. Lordy! You would have thought the neighbor’s cat got stuck in the flywheel of his pickup truck again. Squeak, squack, SCREECH, moan… whistle. (The whistle wasn’t the fiddle, it was me, as if to say, “That weren’t no Itzhak Perlman impersonation right there!”)
Anyway, there was this cute little gal in town named Jenny Lynn who played pretty good fiddle. Her first instrument had been the cello so when she took up the fiddle, she held it upright on her knee in much the same position that a cello would rest in the player’s hands. Since I was too shy to go to her house, we worked out a deal where I would send her ten dollars a week and she would make a cassette tape of a lesson or two for me. I practiced and practiced until I thought I was getting pretty good, so I recorded myself playing the fiddle on my telephone answering machine. One day while I was out shopping with my then four-year old daughter, a singer/songwriter called me up to book me for some recording dates on the guitar. The message I heard when I got home was, “Gee Dan, your daughter is getting pretty good on the fiddle.”
I changed the outgoing message immediately.
The fiddle may be one of the hardest instruments in the world to master, but learning it can bring about an almost zen-like experience. If you choose to play it, steel yourself for a myriad of emotions ranging from bitter frustration to rays of hope to some unimagined euphoria.
I finally got good enough on that old fiddle to play it in the band I was working with. Funny thing was after playing the guitar for many years and gaining a reputation as a pretty decent picker, I could wail away on that guitar all night long and nobody would say a word. The minute I hacked out my passable version of Cotton Eyed Joe, my next break would be filled with pats on the back from the crowd and the band alike.
People loves them some fiddle.
Little Jenny Lynn wound up playing with the great Waylon Jennings and marrying one of the most celebrated session guitarists of all time, Reggie Young. She still holds the fiddle on her knee when she plays. Grandson Joey was over the other day and found my old fiddle in the closet. The good Lord took my hands a few years back so I don’t really play it any more. I let Joey take it out of the case and I tuned it for him. Darned if he didn’t sit right down on the floor and start making some beautiful music with that thing!
The next day I found myself at the local music store. I asked the clerk if I could see a violin and he handed me one. It was smaller than the one I carried around as a young man, four strings and tuned upside-down from a guitar. I knew about instruments and I knew this one was pretty good. Joey’s ninth birthday was just over the horizon so I reached into my back pocket, took out my wallet, and did it again.
I bought a fiddle.
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