Fiddle Tune Repertoire Builder VRCD 107

25 Challenging Reels, Hornpipes, & Jigs Suitable for Contra Dances

Welcome to Voyager Recording's "Repertoire Builder" series. We believe you will find these materials useful in adding tunes and playing techniques to your repertoire. Each release in this series focuses on a theme. Some focus on certain types of tunes, traditional styles, social uses of the tunes, or particular instruments. Some focus on playing skill levels. The heart of Repertoire Builder packages is a CD with the lead instrument on the Left channel and accompaniment on the Right channel. A lead player can turn off the lead channel and play to the accompaniment channel; an accompaniment player can turn off the accompaniment channel and play to the lead channel.

While we believe it is important to learn traditional tunes by ear from traditional players, the package also includes printed music for all the tunes in standard notation with chords indicated. The tune versions in the Repertoire Series are those of the musicians who performed on the CD. In most cases these will be fairly "standard" versions, though some versions may be unique to the particular musician. There generally is no "right" way to play any traditional tune, so it is hoped that you will adapt the tunes to your own style of playing after you have mastered the basic tune as presented. Most of the time there are several ways of chording a traditional tune. The chord charts included will work fine for the tune, but should be regarded only as suggestions, or a start to developing your own backup styling.

The first 25 CD tracks are the tunes played at normal speed with accompaniment. Tracks 26 through 50 are the tunes without accompaniment, slowed down digitally for easier learning.

The written music is merely a convenient shorthand. It is an aid in finding the notes of a tune and a reminder of how a tune goes, and can never convey all the stylistic nuances of a performance. I have not attempted to include all the accents, bowings, slides, dynamics, or variations in the written music. Any particular way of playing a fiddle tune is never "cast in concrete." It is inherent in the nature of fiddle tunes that they are always evolving, since they have been traditionally passed down through the generations by ear, and each fiddler has his or her own interpretation of the tune.

The tunes in this repertoire set are technically demanding, involving high position playing, string crossing, ornaments, challenging bowing patterns, or playing in flat keys. They are all good dance tunes, and are usable for contra dancing, although they might take more effort to play than many simpler tunes. Contra dance tunes are usually 32 bars long, with the tempo ranging from 108 beats per minute to 120; 112 to 115 is a safe speed.

Traditionally, each contra dance had a particular tune to go with it, which automatically matched that dance. These days any number of tunes can go with any dance, so you have to figure out the matching yourself. When there are balances in the dance, use a tune with an accent where the balance occurs, for instance a quarter note figure in a jig (as in the second part of "Dust Devil") or a heavy accent in a hornpipe or reel (as in "Logger's Breakdown"). If you are clever, you can play almost any tune in a way that makes it match the dance.

Most current contra dance musicians play medleys of two or three tunes rather than playing the same tune all the way through a dance. Some transitions from one tune to the next are inherently easier or sound better than others; try out different combinations and practice the transitions. Ideally, a medley should build in intensity, for instance by changing from major key to minor or vice versa, or by going from a key such as G where most notes are stopped to a key such as A with more bright open strings, or by following a laid-back tune with a more rhythmically accented tune. When the dancers start whooping and hollering at the start of the second or third tune, you know you have pulled off a well constructed medley.


1. Archie Menzies - This tune was composed by Scottish musician John Lowe (1797-1866) and is popular in eastern Canada. If you've been practicing your arpeggios in F major and G minor, you shouldn't have much trouble with this one!

2. Big John McNeil - This is often thought of as a classic Canadian tune, although it was composed by Scottish fiddler Peter Milne in honor of John McNeil, a famous Highland dancer around 1900. It has become an American fiddle contest standard. That ascending run at the end of the first part has to be one of the most diabolical finger-tanglers ever concocted, especially since it comes right after some fairly fatiguing finger work at the beginning of the tune. At the end of the tune, you could use the ending marked as the 1st ending every time, but it's much more dramatic to use the long descending run when you're going back to the beginning of the tune.

3. Bonnie Kate - An Irish tune (possibly stolen from Scotland) that has become a classic all over Canada and many parts of the US. Some tricky string crossings, fast triplets, and finger-tangling possibilities, but absolutely worth the practice!

4. Cincinnati Hornpipe - This version is from "Cole's 1000 Fiddle Tunes." There are several other tunes with almost the same beginning for the second part. Keep your wrist loose for all those string crossings.

5. City of Savannah - An American tune from Ryan's Mammoth Collection, probably named for the sail steamer City of Savannah, built in 1877, the flagship of the Ocean Steamship Company of Savannah. The third position work is made easier by all those open E's that give you a chance to get up there and come back down; there's still some fast string crossing and finger tangling to contend with.

6. College Hornpipe or Sailor's Hornpipe - College Hornpipe is the original name for this tune which dates from the 18th century in England. It came to be called Sailor's Hornpipe because it was often used to accompany a solo dance which was popular on the London stage in the 1790's, featuring a step dancer in a sailor costume.

7. Concert Reel - Written by Canadian fiddler John Durocher, this tune is something of a contest standard in western Canada. It sounds great played clean and crisp, maybe even a little staccato, with well-defined phrases.

8. Dominion Reel - This tune is found in Ryan's Mammoth Collection (aka Cole's 1000 Fiddle Tunes) originally published around 1880. It's not that hard to play, but in for a contra dance it's notey enough to get pretty fatiguing!

9. Early in the Evening - This is one of the tunes that legendary Northwest fiddler Joe Pancerzewski learned from the Nelson brothers, who were his neighbors when he was a child in North Dakota. In the third bar I usually go to second position for those high B notes and come right back down to first position.

10. Grant Lamb's Breakdown - Grant Lamb, from Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, wrote this tune, which was recorded and published by prominent Canadian fiddler and band leader Don Messer. It's a truly relentless finger-tangler!

11. Jean LaTippe - I learned this tune from the playing of Idaho champion fiddler Loyd Wanzer. I suspect that this tune was originally named for Jean LaFitte, the famous French pirate, and that the name has been altered by the folk process! It can be pretty tricky to bow the string crossings in the second part smoothly.

12. Julie Delaney - Julia Delaney was the wife of uilleann piper Barney Delaney, and sister-in-law of Francis O'Neill, who published a D major version of the tune in "Music of Ireland" in Chicago in 1903. It's a great ender for a contra medley - sounds like Celtic rock n roll!

13. Levantine's Barrel - This tune was named after an 1870's entertainer named F.F. Levantine, whose most famous act involved a spinning barrel! It is sometimes also called Bummer's Reel or The Tullymore Piper.

14. Lightning Hornpipe - Several variations of this tune are widely known in the US and Canada. I learned this one from Grant Lamb. For more efficient fingering, during most of the tune leave your first finger down on B flat on the A string, lifting it only when you go to low E flat or open A.

15. Loggers Breakdown - Joe Pancerzewski claimed that Don Messer adapted this tune from an older one called "Corn on the Cob." It's widely known in Canada and New England. Just practice your B flat, E flat, and F arpeggios and you'll have no trouble playing it!

16. Mountain Ranger Hornpipe - This tune is also known as Rosebud Reel. It's another good example of a B flat tune where you plant your first finger on the B flat note on the A string and don't lift it until you absolutely have to.

17. Peter Street - Peter Street is the name of a street in Dublin. In Scotland this tune is called Timour the Tartar. Use open E, and keep your wrist loose for all that string crossing.

18. Pleasures of Home - Joe Pancerzewski got this gorgeous E-flat tune from a notebook kept by Elvy Osborne, a barber and fiddler in Minot, North Dakota early in the 20th century.

19. St. Adelle's Reel - I learned this Canadian tune from Joe Pancerzewski. It has been attributed to prolific Manitoba composer Andy deJarlis.

20. Walker Street - In Ireland this is called The Traveler; French Canadians call it Reel des Ouvriers (The Laborer's Reel). Keep a loose wrist for the string crossings and you'll be ok.

21. Woodchopper's Reel - A classic Canadian tune, with lots of arpeggios and string crossings.

22. Dust Devil - I named this tune after those little whirlwinds that appear on hot days in Eastern Washington and Oregon.

23. Fittro's Folly - I wrote this tune to commemorate Washington State Ferry captain Billy Fittro's unfortunate encounter with a reef in Grindstone Harbor in the San Juan Islands. It's quite a bit more manageable than some of those arpeggio etudes!

24. Peter Barnes - Frank Ferrel named this tune in honor of the great New England piano player Peter Barnes. Go to third position at the beginning of the second part, and come back down to first position while playing that series of open E's in the third measure from the end.

25. Rippling Water Jig - This tune is popular in midwestern Canada. It is usually played with the parts in the opposite order, but I learned it from Joe Pancerzewski, who played them in this order. The second part is quite a workout for your little finger. I usually go to high B rather than A for those trills in the second half of the second part.

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