Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Cricket Dance

I wrote The Cricket Dance in 1994 after experiencing a deep connection with the natural world at my first annual Fiddle Camp, which was held at Montgomery Bell State Park in central Tennessee. The park is largely forested, and in the summer evening, the collective chirping of countless crickets would create a massive, swelling soundscape. As though conducted by some unseen natural force, the crickets’ chirping followed a variety of rhythmic and dynamic patterns that changed frequently and in coordination.

Holding my fiddle near the edge of the woods one evening during the camp, I wondered if I could manipulate these patterns by playing something “cricket-ish.” After all, fiddling (running a bow across strings) didn’t seem much different from chirping (rubbing legs and wings together). Perhaps I could fool the crickets into thinking I was just one of them?

So, I started chirping on the fiddle. I found a natural bounce point about midway up the bow, and I began playing a fast spicatto rhythm while fingering double-stops and sounding them with the bow on both strings. Not only was I able to propel off the strings with much more ease than playing single-string spicatto, but I could also generate many more overtones.

The pattern and sound texture I played seemed to excite the crickets, because their chirps became louder and more numerous. The crickets and I enjoyed what was perhaps the first ever human-cricket jam session, and The Cricket Dance was born!

I recorded the tune for my solo violin album, Midnight on the Water, one summer in St. Louis at the Sheldon Concert Hall, a very old building that was not terribly soundproofed. The crickets outside heard me playing The Cricket Dance through the walls of the hall, and even though I didn’t officially hire them, their chirping made it onto the final master tape of the tune. If you listen to the Midnight on the Water recorded version through headphones, you can actually hear their chirping at the end of the track.

Thanks to The Cricket Dance  I propose that the Italian term for “off the bow”, spicatto, be replaced with a new term, crickatto! The tune functions as a great crickatto exercise.

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