St. Anne’s Reel, Big John McNeil, Orange Blossom Special… These are all fiddle tunes that have been played a million times, and because of that, fiddlers have a mixed relationship with them. As a matter of fact, in all styles of music, there are pieces or songs like this, such as Pachelbel’s Canon in classical music.
So, what is wrong with this music? Nothing! All of these pieces are great in their own rights. It is simply that they have been played so much that often musicians dread having to play them. Ask a Celtic band about playing the “Unicorn Song” or “Barrett’s Privateer’s” when talking to them in private, and you will likely get a groan!
The thing is that for the people in the audience, these are pieces that they love and know, and want to hear again. There is something about the familiar that we all enjoy. For the musician on stage, this is yet another time to be playing these tunes. I have gone through the dread of having to play St. Anne’s Reel one more time. Having said that, I always played it when requested.
Several years ago I put together a medley of tunes including the Orange Blossom Speical, Big John McNeil, St. Anne’s Reel and Devil’s Dream. It was kind of a joke in a way so that I could play all of them at once and get it out the way. However, since then I have had a change of heart. Now I play the music for the audience, and I enjoy their love of these pieces. This set of tunes has since become one of my favourites. Why? The audience always responds so well, and I started taking joy in their delight. Also, these are actually great tunes! It has been nice to start enjoying them again!
Often I hear other musicians complain about certain songs or tunes, and some even refuse to learn or perform some of these common tunes. I think that it is too bad. In the end, we musicians are nothing without an audience. We could sit at home and play music for ourselves, but that is not where the joy in music is… The joy is in sharing it with other people. I believe that musicians should try to make their audiences happy. For me it is always a balance of playing music that my audience has heard and will enjoy as well as introducing them to new pieces that I have discovered. I think that is the role of a musician!
So, should you come to one of my shows, please feel free to request any fiddle tune you like. I will no doubt do my best to play it if possible!