Recent events remind me of a comment that came my way during a gig twenty years ago. This comment has weighed on my mind ever since. My blog, now just over a month old, makes it possible to at last toss it out there for the rest of you to chomp on and think through with me.
The story: In April 1995, I was playing background music on the hammered dulcimer durging the lunch hour in the cafeteria of a pharmaceutical company near Trenton, NJ. My repertoire was the usual smattering of extemporized fiddle tunes, classical music, and popular songs, going heavy on the fiddle tunes (there’s something about the happiness in these tunes).
Between tunes, a young man–30-something, tall, thin, handsome, clean-shaven, wearing an Oxford shirt with wool slacks and a necktie, perhaps an M.D. or Ph.D.–had apparently listened for quite some time before coming forward to speak with me. I don’t remember if he stood close by for a bit while I played the tune of the moment (a usual response, as every dulcimer player knows), but when I finished playing, he said:
“You play with precision. Folk music isn’t precise.”
And then he returned to his office to work.
Suffice it to say I’d been decked. I think.
What did he mean? Here I am, twenty years later, still pondering this. Was he suggesting that I was playing folk music “wrong” because my approach was precise? Or did he at last find folk music to be appealing because the tunes were played precisely in rhythm and harmony? What should my response be in the future when I play fiddle tunes and other folk melodies? His words leave a lot to interpretation.
So I’m asking you: What was the first thing that came to your mind about what he said? Leave a (cordial!) comment to share your thoughts, and be sure to return here from time to time to see how thoughts progress. There are no right or wrong answers; you can tell from my own questions that even I am conflicted in trying to interpret what he said! I look forward to your thoughts.