Part one of this three-part series (Winter 2005/2006) introduced the art of contest fiddling in general and the three-tune contest fiddle round consisting of a breakdown (or hoedown), a waltz, and a tune of choice [something other than a breakdown or waltz (most commonly rags or polkas)]. “Dusty Miller,” featured in Part One, Perfectly represents the hard-driving, take-no-prisoners contest breakdown replete with its long-form structural development, advanced technical variations covering two-and-one-half octaves, and complex model interchange. This installment offers “Flat Creek Waltz,” one of my compositions that has proven very effective for both myself and several friends who have won important championships with it. (Its name honors the village south of Shelbyville that my family calls home, which, coincidentally, is the hometown of Uncle Bunt Stephens, the winner of the first national fiddle competition sponsored by Henry Ford in the 1920s).
One finds significantly more stylistic variation from region to region throughout North America regarding waltzes as opposed to breakdowns and tunes of choice; so, consequently, a short list of sure-fire contest winners is more difficult to compile than as is the case with breakdowns. In eastern Canada, for instance, double stops are almost entirely
eschewed and tempos are very quick. Out in Texas and further west, tempos are sometimes so slow as to be undanceable, and double stops are normally employed only in a fashion very idiomatic to the fiddle itself (i.e., double stops that lay on the fingerboard easily). Here in the southeast, the contest-style waltz came to its complete fruition in the hands of such masters as J.T. Perkins, Howdy Forrester, Clark Kessinger, and Frazier Moss with their advanced harmonic contest and virtuoso technique which never shied away from adventuresome modulations and long passages of parallel thirds in higher positions. (Forrester’s favorite “fiddler” was none other than Venetian classical maestro Fritz Kreisler.)
“Flat Creek Waltz” owns more than a slight stylistic nod to Perkins and Forrester with its four sections, numerous modulations (it employs G major, Eb major, and E minor), and heavy use of difficult double stops. Although melody must always remain supremely important, a successful contest-style waltz should exhibit technical brilliance, and waltzes in the tradition of Perkins and Forrester most certainly provide a significant advantage in a head-to-head competition. I normally perform this piece between 120 and 130 beats per minute with a relatively aggressive vibrato and as much as panache as I can muster. While subtly is the mark of a master musician, emphasis on understatement is not the point in a contest. Also, use glissandos very sparingly and very consciously; slipping and sliding around is generally unmusical and not nearly as impressive as being able to stick a double perfectly in tune.
Have fun with “Flat Creek Waltz,” and remember to make as big a sound as possible. Part three in this series will present “Cotton Patch Rag” in a full-out, no-holds-barred, loaded-for-bear version that has proven its worth at numerous contests.
A Winning Contest Fiddle Round Part Two: Flat Creek Waltz – Published originally in Fiddler Magazine
Click here to read Part 1
Click here to read Part 2