Music Is Not a Museum
Music is not a museum. It is a living, breathing organism. All traditions have had to start somewhere. Innovation and preservation can co-exist. I grew up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in a house full of music. My parents were professional classical string players, so I was quick to start learning violin. I am proud to have experienced a childhood almost exclusively filled with musical training in various genres. I played the fiddle with a group called the Calgary Fiddlers, as well as viola with the Calgary Youth Orchestra and the Academy program at Mount Royal College. With these programs, I travelled to the United Kingdom, New Zealand, South Korea, Europe and all over North America, before my 18th birthday. I led the CYO's viola section in a performance for the Queen of England the same day as my highschool graduation. Having learned a lot about classical music, despite not having refined it to my full potential, I decided to pursue jazz at post-secondary. I made my way to Humber College in Toronto, Ontario. In May of my last year in Calgary, I released my first album, The Quiet Streets. I wrote about half of the tunes of the album. I played all of the instruments of the album, and recorded, mixed and mastered it myself. If I had to, I would classify it as a 'Celtic Fiddle CD'. It's heavily influenced by rock music, as well as classical and bluegrass. While I recorded this, I was starting to go through a serious indie rock phase in my musical tastes. I didn't manage to have it show all that much in The Quiet Streets. So I got to Toronto. About 3 weeks after arriving, I was seeking out the Celtic scene. I took many people's advice and went to supposedly 'the best Irish session in Canada'. After sitting there for about an hour, knowing none of the tunes and getting some amazingly unwelcoming looks from the fiddlers around me, I was about to leave when someone asked me to start a tune. After I finished, I had a conversation with a few of the fiddlers around me. During this conversation, one of the fiddlers casually said something like 'fiddletunes with any other influences just bug me. It's not meant to be that way. It's such an amateur thing to fuse other genres into Irish tunes. It's a disrespect to the tradition'. I politely got up and left. That night, I couldn't sleep. I lay in bed, fuming mad. To this day, I am still a part of many fiddle communities where this is a commonplace belief. This belief is killing the potential of fiddle music! In classical, jazz and rock music, it's always been pretty normal to fuse in elements of other genres. Are the Beatles amateur for using a sitar in Norweigan Wood? Is Igor Stravinsky amateur for writing classical pieces with strong jazz overtones? So what is it about Irish and Old Time fiddle cultures in Canada that is so set on exclusively recreating music of the past? I think some people must just be afraid of losing these traditions altogether. So that night, I got up at 4 AM and walked to my computer. I had recorded a little idea for a song a week or so prior. The song had no vocals (being as I'd rather die than sing) and it had no violin. It was just a little indie rock riff. I sat at my computer that night and wrote a fiddle tune that fit over the chords. I recorded the violin part it at 10 the following morning and bitterly called it The Beginning of the Indie-Rock-Fiddle-Revolution. I've since renamed it The Beginning. It sparked a genre that never existed before, as far as I know. I want to clarify something: I have a HUGE amount of love and appreciation for the Irish, Old Tyme, Scottish, Cape Breton and Bluegrass fiddle traditions. I've spent much of my life learning the inner workings of them. I am not suggesting we leave these traditions to the past. I'm just suggesting that we let innovation and invention use these traditions as parts of a direction for the future. These traditions will not be forgotten. Music is not a museum. It is a living, breathing organism. All traditions have had to start somewhere. Innovation and preservation can co-exist. Ben Plotnick.