Reprinted with permission from the Spring 1994 issue of
Copyright Fiddler magazine, 1994.
A Lilt All His Own
By Mary Larsen.
A contest winner since his early teens, Martin Hayes captured the prestigious title of
All-Ireland Champion a total of six times. For seven years he was a member of the Tulla Ceili
Band. He has appeared on every major TV program on traditional music in Ireland, and he
is heard regularly on Irish radio in both recordings and live appearances. The product of a
musical family (his father P. J. Hayes and his uncle Paddy Canny are both famous fiddlers),
Martin's unique sound is based on the music of his native East Clare, but has become a style
very much his own. His 1993 self-titled album is an example of this pure and expressive
playing. Martin talks about what it was like growing up a fiddle player in Feakle, and shares
his thoughts about the Irish musical heritage and its many regional styles, and where they're
Before the following conversation, I was treated to an impromptu session at Martin Hayes'
house in Seattle, with Grey Larsen on concertina and flute, Andre Marchand on guitar, Mark
Graham on harmonica, and Martin on fiddle. I wish I could include a taste of that wonderful
music with this interview, but the reader can imagine what four professionals, passionate
about traditional music, might sound like together.
How is the traditional music scene today different from what it used to be, and how are
the changes affecting the music?
Sixty years, even a hundred years ago, the music was part of' the people's lives. It was the
absence of exposure to other musics and other cultures, and the absence of radio and TV, a
simpler way of life. It was a music that not only the musicians were focused in on, but also
the people of the locality were focused on. That music was the only form of live music that
they had. They didn't hear it from any other source, so there was more of an interaction with
the musician. There would have been a familiarity with the tunes, familiarity through
singing, poetry and dance. There was a common musical language for the people. The
musician is more isolated in the locality now, not as much a part of things, and Irish music is
marginalized in the mass media. The universal language is rock and roll and classical music,
which I like myself. But as a child growing up I was fortunate enough to have grown up
almost without hearing rock and roll music, if you can imagine such a thing....
Irish music is taken out of that natural environment, the same as I felt I was kind of pulled
out of that natural environment myself. The controversy is trying to recreate this old style of
music, right? To maintain it. But the framework doesn't exist. And so it can no longer exist
as a folk music, in the very pure sense of folk music rising out of the people. Maybe it can't
exist in an age of CDs and concerts and appearances, and albums, radios and TVs. It can't exist
in that format anymore, so maybe the musician, in order to preserve the essence of the
music, would have to think as an artist, and would have to take it very seriously and would
have to be very dedicated to that idiom, and very true to the spirit and nature of it, because it
has a certain soul contained in it. There's a certain expression in it, the inspiration of
generations combined ill it, the inspiration of generations combined. There are the struggles,
the joys of life, that's caught in every little twist and phrase of those tunes. They were placed
there over time, and so we have to look al these now - we tend to overlook them, I think,
and forget those little gems of melody. Folk music has a . . . collective unconscious stored
there, musical collective unconsciousness all gathered up in the various tunes, so a kind of
familiarity with the history and the culture, and the people is important. I've found that
listening to the very old players, who sometimes didn't have the technical proficiency and all
that, you heard a lot of raw emotion, and you heard a lot of emotional experience. And of
course, to some degree it had a universal emotional expression, but also a very personal one
for each musician There was some degree to which, as you dug deeper and deeper into each
regional style into each area, you found each individual creating his own uniqueness.
There's a lot of room for self-expression
At one stage, I definitely wanted to universalize Irish music. I thought I'd do it by expanding
out into rock and to jazz.... and bringing those things into Irish music. As I began to think
about it more and more, I realised Irish music itself is a universal language.
Is Irish music getting watered down by thinking of Irish music as a universal
Well it is, you see. This is what's happening. You can't really have a regional style, you can't
have a Clare style or a Kerry style anymore. A hundred years ago it would have taken me a
half an hour to get to the next parish. Well now it would take me a half an hour to get to
"I think the regional styles are dying out, and I don't think they can ever be revived.... The
only hope I see is for people to find individual expression in it."
But do you have a Clare style?
It's the basis of what I do. I think a lot of it is kind of individual But I made a conscious
decision about that though, at an early age in music, at about thirteen or fourteen. I grew up
in it, and of course I had access to all kinds of different styles. But I decided to play the music
of the locality, because I had maybe selfish reasons at the time: "Oh, here's a unique style of
music, here's a whole new way of doing it" - not a new way, but here's something that would
be unique. So I did it in a very calculated manner in the beginning. In later years I was
grateful for it, that I had, for whatever reason or other, gotten into listening to the music of
the old concertina players, whistle players, fiddle players, around the locality Because it's nice
to pay homage to them, and it's nice to acknowledge their part in it, but very often the real
richness of what they're doing is overlooked. It's all very well to say Junior Crehan is the last
of the maybe real old West Clare fiddlers, and of course, you can look to his aging hands now
and think maybe it's not the music that's important, but the fact that Junior Crehan was
there I don't mean to say that that's not important - it's absolutely important But what is
Junior Crehan trying to say. It's his music. What emotional feel,
understanding and expression does he have? That's the most important part. When I
wanted to find a way of interpreting the music, I looked to the way these people interpreted
it. But of course, I couldn't interpret it as Junior Crehan, but I could interpret it as me, in a
personal way. But there's a common understanding too. You can't go to the personal
expression in the music until you've gone through the broader, more common approach to
it. It's not like you could just take this up and decide to be an individualist with this music,
unless you had gone through the mill, found at least the common expression in music, and
at least a familiarity with the language of the music and the tones played. I just think you
have to go through that point and then you have to really understand that very, very well
before you can become personally expressive.
I think the regional styles are dying out, and I don't think they can ever be revived. I think
any resuscitation of them in that sense would be very mechanical, would be very
premeditated, and of course this music never came out of a premeditated, orchestrated form.
It would be imitation rather than a real expression. So the only hope I see is for people to find
individual expression in it. Right now most of the traditional music I hear.... seems like a
work in progress. There's an evolution taking place, a fast evolution, and of course, certain
mistakes and avenues will appear and then be blocked off or will be just not very fertile
ground for music. What's happening is that there's a homogenized style of music
developing, which is, I think, part of the common language of the music. And I think it's an
important part of the process. I know people are very scared, but I think there are two logical
conclusions to this: People keep playing it and eventually are bored, and eventually
frustrated by not enough individual expression, and so lots of things get tried out - Celtic rock
gets tried out, jazz music, they bring in rhythm sections from any part of the world, they're
doing all these kinds of things - you hear it on albums all over the place. Because there's that
need, that feeling, to do something unique and different. And yet, what happens, you chase
that down, and the further and further you chase that, the next thing you're playing jazz
music and rock music - you've left the Irish music behind. And so now you start scratching
your head and go "I'm in a whole other genre, and that's not what I wanted." Another
conclusion is that it'll all become just one traditional music, just become one generic style,
and it'll just fade out, or people will get bored and start looking into other areas. It's a
wonderful experiment and I've enjoyed a lot of the music that's come out of that whole area,
but it's an adjunct, it's not the avenue, it's not the natural course for the music. I think that
the natural evolution, now that regional styles are dying off, is for much more individual
expression it would then be as rich as there are people and individuality. So the music
ultimately has enormous possibilities, because everyone is a unique collection of emotions
But don't you have to be at a very advanced level to be able to individualize it like
Not technically, I don't think. I think maybe emotionally. yes. In your mind, I think you
need to be very comfortable with it. And you do need to have gone through this raw process
of playing tunes and sessions, and playing this gig, and doing a lot of different things before
you feel comfortable. . . it's like a journey
The only thing that's meaningful is the music, so long as you can make it in a meaningful
way. If, for example, you think competitively about music, if you think about it as a business,
a financial thing that you're involved in, it you think about it as something you must do, if
you feel pressures to perform on stage, if your ego is seated to be appeased in a performance
of this music, all is lost in a sense. If pride takes the place of humility in music, it's lost. In
order to get to the heart of the music you must have pure expression. Whenever I hear
music that's set out to impress me, I'm unimpressed largely. I'm amazed and dazzled at the
proficiency and technique and the intelligence of the language and the complexity at times,
but if that's what it sets out to achieve, it's absolutely pointless. It's missed the initial point,
the core meaning of music. And an awful lot of music does that. You'd almost want to have
the childlike simplicity again and just go, "I like that. That's nice." A big thing with a lot of
musicians is the fear to play something very simple and delicate, in case somebody would
think you weren't a great fiddler or something. In order to get your own individual
expression, would you have to become a highly technically proficient musician? The answer
really is no, I don't think that that's as important as getting your head straight, and getting
your heart in the right place.
What do you do to prepare for a gig?
It's mostly emotional. I meditate. But I'll do that every day anyway. It's just part of living, for
me. And music is part of living, because it's integrated into my life, so what I do away from
the stage or away from a performance, it all eventually comes out in the music, because I'm
expressing me, I'm expressing what's core to me. Everything is related, every person I meet
and interaction I have, my own personal anger, my own disappointments, my own sorrow,
my own history, my own joys, expectations, hopes, all of those things are there, so it's kind of
finding that calm balance that allows the music to flow out really freely. It's like when you
get this personal stuff of the way, the music can come out.
Do your tunes change every time you play them, depending on your emotional
Yeah, they do. They may not change visibly. You could go back afterwards and examine them
and they wouldn't look like they changed very much. But it's the emotion behind the tune,
and the feeling, that decides where the note falls, decides the spacing, decides a lot of things
that may fall. If I were to play that tune exactly the same the next night without the
emotional content I would be mimicking myself and nothing would be happening. It's that
intangible aspect of the music that we cannot put our finger on.... that's the important part of
it. When you're expressing yourself, it's a very egocentric thing to say that you're baring your
own soul - it's not your own really. In a way it's a part of a greater soul. So you can be
bringing forth something you can't put into words because if you could you probably
wouldn't need the music.
Has your music changed a lot over the years as you're evolved personally?
It has changed. I've been through a lot of different experiences with the music. When I first
came to the States . . . I ended up playing with a band that played rebel music, and songs and
stage Irish humor in clubs. and all kinds of things, and I really wasn't known very well at all
in the States in any musical community. I was way out in the backwater in these strange
clubs where real music listeners very rarely went, where I was playing all kinds stuff.... If I
were to walk into a club and hear somebody like me playing like that, I'd be very dismissive.
So I learned a lot of humility the hard way. When I was playing as a teenager I was winning a
lot of honour.... you don't know how to handle that. You're always told, "Don't let it go to
your head, don't let it go to your head," and you're always saying, "Don't let it go to my head,
I won't let it go to my head," but it does.... But in my early twenties, when I was in Chicago,
here I was playing absolutely the worst music that I could imagine myself playing for a
living, and doing it day in and day out, and being embarrassed by it.... and beginning to
wonder if this was all it was ever going to be. I could see no way out of it, really. That was one
musical experience.... that made me swallow a lot of my own pride.
After that initial experience, I played with lots of musicians from different musical
backgrounds in Chicago, and that had a certain effect. It's like taking something and putting it
against a different backdrop to look at it. You begin to see it in many different ways and you
get a clearer picture of it. I went through that experience. I played everything from wedding
music to planing out and out rock tunes at extreme volume levels. to playing electric fiddle.
to playing cocktail hours. all kinds of things, which normally traditional ethnic music isn't
Since then, I've completely submitted to the notion that I'11 play what's in my heart, I'll play
what I feel. and I'll try and not make any commercial judgments I'll try and not make any
decisions that would be easy to make in terms of popular choice or whatever. I'll just try and
believe in a divine existence in this world that will pull me into doing some things. I'll just
do what comes naturally to me while I have the talent to do it, and follow where that leads
me, and assume that it will take care of me if I take care of it.
"It's the emotion behind the tune, and the feeling, that decides where the note falls...."
Where do you think it will lead you next?
I have no idea. it's like I'm standing in the doorway of it. One way I look out into the vast
world of music, and I see all the people, all the musicians, who go off and play, create wildly
different things. And then, at time I'll look back the other way, and I'll look into the
music, and I see that universality in there also. I feel there's a whole world to explore
inside that. I've tried to get inside the tunes - to make them expressive, and I feel like there's
more of me that can go in there, there's more expression , there's more expansiveness in the
tunes that I need to explore still. So I've no idea what will happen next. I don't know.
Do you have plans for another album?
Yeah. Well, Green Linnet has plans for another album, because I signed a contract saying that
I'll make four of them! I've thought about it. What happens is I have a million ideas, and it
just seems to leave me defeated. Indeed, making the first album was the same way. I had to
say "Okay, snapshot, this is it." It's going to happen within the next year.... it's kind of like
you have this date approaching and saying, "Okay, make some decisions now.'' You really
have to kind of be forced to do some things sometimes. I didn't know whether the first
album would go well or not, whether anyone would like it, whether they' d think, "oh,
another fiddle album," and that would be it.... I'm delighted that people like it, that they
get it. I'm very pleased that people get it. That they can enjoy it. I don't want anyone
to be impressed by me. I like them to enjoy it in the real sense, and I'm very pleased that it's
What's your favorite environment to play in? Performing? Playing by yourself?
I think performing, actually, is my favorite, because it forces me into a very concentrated
place. I can do it at home, and I have done it at home, where you collect all these energies,
inside your self, and you set everything right, and go at it. It's harder to discipline yourself
sometimes there.... I mean, you can sit there and play through the tunes, and do a lot of the
kind of nitty gritty stuff, like dawdling and all these kinds of things, at home. But when I go
up to play, I feel like all of the pieces, all of the loose ends that I've been dawdling upon now
must be pulled together. It's kind of like tidying your house. You kind of pull everything
apart, you know - you're tidying the house because some guests are coming over. Well now,
that house would not really get tidied maybe, as well, if those people weren't coming. So
that's kind of what the gig is. You've got to tidy up all these loose ends and get on the stage.
The happiest time of my life is when I sit up there playing for people, making the connection
with the music. It's very easy to make the connection by dazzling and impressive playing,
exciting playing, and giving into the flash, and doing all that, you can get a crowd going. But
it's superficial and you feel like you've cheated yourself.
Music is to be shared, it's a sharing experience. It's nice to be able to sit there and get some
sublime feeling inside yourself, some sense of ecstasy, and loss, and excitement. and vigor,
and translate it out, and let it ripple out and be magnified as it goes through people. And it
does get energized by other people feeling it and sensing it - it gets strengthened. And you
could do it with one note, if there was enough purity and strength behind it. Micho Russell
for me is always a case in point - he's not into any technical frills or anything like that, and I
don't think he takes himself seriously in an artistic sense, or ever thinks or talks about it. but
what the man has is a lot of natural purity, a lot of natural loveliness as a person. And he
goes out and he is himself.
Do you ever play in positions other than first? Do you play other styles?
When I'm playing Irish music, even the way I hold my fiddle, I've locked myself into first
position and I can't find any use for any other position in the music, or the need to show that
I could play other positions - the music wasn't structured in a way that it made any sense to
do so. On the other hand. when I take up my fiddle and I play along with Chick Corea, or Jan
Garbarek, or all these other musics that I listen to all day long, I'll play my fiddle and find
myself naturally jumping out of position, and quite comfortably so, and it feels right. I'm
very much an amateur in all those other musical areas, but I dawdle along in other styles. I
like to improvise a bit, dawdle with the scales and stuff. I think just freeing myself up and
putting my head in another music format is good, and when I come back to play traditional
music, I've kind of broadened it up a little, opened up, expanded the prospects. Then when I
go back to traditional music, I'm in that mindset. As soon as I play a few notes of it, that's
what I am.... I'm not that fascinated with the current repertoire of Irish music on albums.
More often than not, the music I listen to is Bach, Beethoven, endless amounts of other
music, world music. I've learned how to appreciate and enjoy it. I also make myself listen to
music that I'm not familiar with. It's like a drudgery process in the beginning, but you know
that it's rewarding at the end. I think music requires a bit of effort on the listener's part too.
The attention span of people and the inability to concentrate, and the overexposure to music
is a real detriment to it at the moment, or to serious music anyway, because people site in
their cars and go like this (snaps finger) and they have music. They have music in the stores,
they have music in school, they have music in the office, music in the workplace, they have
music on the boat, they have music on the bus. The specialiness of music is being wiped
away. A moment without music would be considered boring, whereas at one time, a
moment with music would have been special. So people are more lazy about the way they
listen to it. The stuff that's easiest to comprehend and is most accessible with the least effort
is what succeeds.
What do you do to practice? Do you do scales at all, or work on new tunes?
Yeah, I dawdle along on scales.... I'm actually going to take some lessons. There's a jazz player
here in town that teaches one of my students.... I'm going to go and learn a bunch of other
scales -I'm not going to re-invent the wheel at home. To practice, I play along with albums of
all kinds of music. I just think that to take up the fiddle and play is to practice in a way. I
should rephrase that. I never really practiced in my life, so much as I wanted to have the
experience of playing. I can't imagine doing it as a chore. A lot of the time I'll just dawdle, but
I'll be dawdling or fun, to hear my fiddle. Just to hear the sound of it is therapy.
"In Ireland there is still a sense of music being more intimately interwoven into the
But don't you have to practice to find out what techniques are going to express certain
You do, yeah, but of course you can never say what technique expresses some emotion Some
emotion causes some technique to develop. When you think about finding technical things
to open up the doors to expression, and you think about it in a mechanical way like that, you
kind of open up a can of worms, because now you have an infinite amount of things one
could be doing technically to open up all the doors. You're trying to create the emotion out of
the physical instrument, out of the process, whereas that has to come from inside. If we can
imagine the human species inventing the spoken word - I think they felt a need to express
something, and the need to say it shaped the language. And I think that music was shaped by
the need to express something, and then afterwards the music theorists came down and
analyzed what took place, and they wrote a certain set of rules around it that explained it. It's
not the technical stuff that expresses the emotion. One of my own favourites is a tin whistle
player called Joe Bane. I have a tune on the album called "The Britches." It's very simple.
Anybody could play it. Any beginner could play every note I play. It's not technically difficult.
And it wasn't technically difficult the way he played it. But when he played it, it would bring
a tear to my eye. He'd look forward to playing that tune all night at a session, and when the
opportunity would arise, he'd go, "Ah sure, we'll play 'The Britches.'" He'd been waiting to
do this. He loved it. It was like a lullaby - there was sweetness in it, there was humility in it,
there was joy and love, everything in it, and it was the climax of his day, of his week to do
this tune. He had no chops, he had no knowledge, no theoretical anything, but his space was
magic. He didn't need to know any more technical anything. The only thing that was amiss
around him was a world that didn't understand what was going on.
Music to me is a very spiritual and philosophical thing, and it's very much an integrated part
of my life, more and more so. It didn't always have to be that way. At one time I would have
said to myself "Now hold on a second, Micho Russell, Junior Crehan and Bobby Casey don't
need to do that, they don't have to think about that," but then again, you know, I'm not
Junior Crehan and I'm not Bobby Casey, and I'm not Micho Russell, so I guess I'll have to do
it my way. It is a more complex time these days, there are more complex issues to be thought
out, even though you end up coming down to the most fundamental and simple principles
in the end. It's a complicated process to weed through all that, it's like a process of
unlearning in some ways
What differences do you see between music in Ireland and in the U.S.?
It's not so much that it's a vast difference, it's only the degree to which things are
commercialised in America There's no doubt that music is all shrink-wrapped, and in the
store, and on the radio and on TV, and on a large stage with lighting and a massive PA. and
it's so often distanced from real life. People are distanced from the music. In Ireland, it's a bit
closer. In Ireland there is still a sense of music being more intimately interwoven into the
community. It's a bit more present, in the real sense. I remember old John Kelly's shoe shop,
horse shoes, anything, could be bought in that shop But there [John Kelly] was, working
around the store.... Well, he was also a fiddler, and there was that sense that the music could
happen right there in the shop, and it often did! And it happened in the local bar, and it
happened very spontaneously. I lived in Chicago, and inside the city confines, it's actually
the same population as the Republic of Ireland. And on a night out, musically, in Chicago, I
had to compare it to the whole island, and there was no comparison. The number of
musicians and bands and music that comes out of Ireland, for its size, is quite amazing. The
amount of music is just phenomenal. The amount of things that happen, the amount of
movies, the amount of writers.... it's very easy to say, "Ireland, it's another country out there
across the Atlantic," but it's only a population of 3.5 million people. A lot of artistic stuff does
come out of it, on a per capita basis. I don't know why that is, but it does amaze me. I think
maybe it's because the arts are not so distant from people. I think everybody can play music. I
don't think it's beyond anybody's capacity to learn to play music if you've got a soul and a
spirit at all, and you've got a mind.... Everybody doesn't get the opportunity, that's for sure,
everybody doesn't get exposed to it in the natural way, that I know for sure, and not
everybody is led to believe that they could play, that I also know, but I think that everybody
could play music, as easily as they could do anything else. It's just that in Ireland there are
more opportunities for people to be involved in music, especially from a very young age.
How do you think we can encourage kids to play traditional music?
I think, just let them hear it. Just let them hear it from day one, let them hear good music.
Records and live music. Just being exposed to it.... There are households where children see
books, they become readers. Where they listen to classical music, children have all interest in
classical music. I think maybe the time that they acquire language facilities might be the time
for music to creep in. I don't know, I would be no expert on that. I'd say, to be on the safe
side, just play lots of music.
Do you remember when you decided you were going to take up the fiddle? Or the first
time you picked one up?
Santa Claus brought me a fiddle. I was destined and ordained to be a fiddle player, because if
Santa Claus figured I was a fiddle player, and I was in a house with lots of fiddle music.... My
dad did it. Like wearing long pants, it was the grown up thing to do, so l figured, yes, this was
Did fiddle playing come naturally to you?
Ah, no. Not at all. I struggled very hard. My father, for sure, definitely gave up on me many
times, and assumed that I would never make it. He kind of let me know that, too, in his own
disappointed way. He didn't mean any harm. But he never ever forced me to, or never made
me practice my fiddle. It was entirely up to me to ask him to show me how to do it. I
struggled. He taught me the first tune about ten times. The start was really shaky. It took me
several years to get just a few tunes together, to get two or three tunes. So, never give up. I
mean, I looked like somebody who wasn't going to make it, for sure. And I struggled
through, and right around the age of twelve, thirteen, fourteen, it all clicked. Finally I got
over some hump that I couldn't put my finger on, and finally it was starting to flow.
Do you have a favorite tune?
It's a matter of being in that ball park. the cluster of my favourite tunes. There's a tune of Ed
Reavey's that I put on the album called "The Whistler from Rosslea," I've played around
with that tune a lot. I like "The Star of Munster" a lot, as a tune, it tends to open up for me
personally I love ' The Morning Star.'' A lot has got to do with how long the tune has been
with me, and, not that it's any better or worse than any other, but the attention I give that
tune, and the gestation period, makes it more or less expressive. The tune in itself is kind of
what you make it, in some ways, what you find in it. They're all full of wonderful stuff. But
some of them are kind of indestructible tunes, some of them have lots of gems of melody.
How do you decide whether a tune is going to be played fast or slowed down a lot? This
summer [at the Willie Clancy School] you taught a tune called "Paddy Taylor's Jig" very
slowly, and it was beautiful, whereas I'm sure a lot of people would tear through it.
I think the standard approach has been one of speed, and to tear into the music really fast
Then, when they wanted to play emotionally and expressively, to play slowly. Whereas I
tend to start out from the other side. I tend to not start out at maximum speed and
maximum volume, but somewhere at a medium to slow speed and volume. When I want to
heighten the expression into excitement or vigor, I can do that. I can strive upwards and
outwards. If I start out at that point, that's the base point I've established.... I think it's foolish
to start out at full speed and at full volume. You're eliminating all kinds of possibilities....
Playing a tune at full speed would be like driving through a country road at full speed. You
may get the excitement of driving fast through a country road, but there's a lot of little gaps
and avenues and trees and houses and such that you miss along the way. And it's like that
with a tune. There's all these little dips and hollows in the tune that are self-explanatory, but
time should be taken to go through them slowly. They explain themselves, they interpret
themselves. They almost show what should be done.
Did you enjoy competing?
When I was a teenager, I enjoyed competing with the fiddle as much as I would have
enjoyed competing in the 100 meter sprint, you know? In the sense that I loved to play, and I
think the reason I did well in competitions is that I loved the sensation of sitting up and
playing to people. I loved getting the music out, causing the experience to happen, because
whatever I experienced at home, 1 could magnify on the stage, I could multiply it. I would
actually play music, whereas a lot of competitors tried to play everything they could play to
impress the adjudicator. I just played, and I liked playing, and it turned out that was the right
thing to do for competition, because it transcended all technical stuff where you couldn't
really tell one from the next and it really didn't make any sense to the adjudicator. I enjoyed
winning the competitions. It was like winning the hundred meter race for me.
Competition doesn't make any sense to me.... especially in music because there is no way of
ranking music in any order. There are so many variables.... And there's a lot of ego damaging
at competitions. It had two effects on me it had a very encouraging effect, convincing me that
I had something that was worthwhile, and that I was good at what I did and that I should
continue. That was very useful But it also had the negative effect of inflating the ego. We
live in a world that adores competition Competition implies winners, and to imply a
winner, implies a loser, so why do we adore systems of anything that imply losing? We
seem, as human beings, to have this competitive need, and we make holy and venerate
concepts of competition, winning, and being a winner.... it's a pity to see that aspect of life
creeping into music. In truth it doesn't make any sense. It's not a good thing.
What are your plans for touring?
Well, I'm touring away a little bit, around the country, doing workshops and concerts, and
my plan is to keep doing that, just keep playing. I woke up the other day and thought, where
shall I go in February? There's a map on the wall.... there's a lot of places to play, but it
requires a lot of work and organization to line it all up.
I don't think too much about the future.... I'm kind of happy enough to make it through the
year, you know? This is not the most commercial music around, so I have to be content to
have a lot of enjoyment in some areas of my life, and I may have to make some
compromises in other areas. You can't have it all. I can't have a big fancy house,
and a big fancy car, and play the most pure folk music I know - well, maybe I
can some day, I don't know. I don't really care. I can't even afford to think that. Since my life
is concerned with playing music, I'll do it, I'll go where I've got to go to play it, and where
there are people who want to hear it.
Tell me about your fiddle.
There's nothing fancy about it. It's not extravagant or expensive, but I am emotionally
attached to it. It was one that my dad had rejected and left up in the attic. Then one night it
was kind of rescued on my behalf. I felt like I could feel it being rejected until I picket it up,
and so I felt like I kind of worked that fiddle. I feel you can nurture tone by playing it in a
certain way, by trying to cultivate that sound. I believe I haven't got the most out of my fiddle
yet.... I haven't reached the pinnacle of tone and quality for myself. But I think the tracks of
my playing, the prints of what I play are imprinted on that fiddle.
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