Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The things I'll do for research: taking up the fiddle!

Posted by: Angela Korra'ti
If you’ve read Faerie Blood and/or Bone Walker, you know that my heroine Kendis Thompson is a fiddle player. There are reasons for that! One is that I am myself an amateur musician, so I’m very inclined to have my protagonists also be musically inclined. Another is that fiddle-playing protagonists are very common in fantasy (and urban fantasy), but also in fiction in general—and in the mythic sources that modern fiction can draw from.

And if you’re a fan of traditional music—Celtic/Irish/Scottish, or if you’re like me, Quebecois—certainly you can’t swing a stick without hitting a fiddle player. Either in the band, or as subjects of songs! “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” is what a lot of Americans think about these days when they think about fiddle players in songs, but in trad music, there are dozens of songs where the subjects involve the fiddle. If you have a song about people showing up for a party, chances are there will be a verse about a fiddle player. If you go up on and search for tunes, you will find lots of them that mention ‘fiddle’ in the title.

And when it comes to songs about musical deals, my favorite, hands down, is Heather Alexander’s Faerie Queen—which has not only a duel, but also a female protagonist fighting the queen of the fey to win back the man she loves. Way more entertaining to me than the idea of just trying to win a fiddle made of gold, because seriously, have you ever thought about how heavy a fiddle made of gold would be? Not to mention whether it would actually produce anything resembling a musical sound.

All of which leads me to note that since I’m a) a writer, b) an amateur musician, and c) a fan of traditional music, it will therefore probably surprise none of you that writing about Kendis has led to me taking up the fiddle myself. When I wrote Faerie Blood, I hadn’t ever handled a fiddle before. But by the time I wrote Bone Walker, I had at least picked a fiddle up once or twice and tried to get noises off of it—and that had led me to discover that if you hit a good strong note on the instrument, that thing will resonate right up your arm. It feels just like magic. There’s a bit in Bone Walker where I describe this, and it’s entirely because I have in fact handled a fiddle now.

When Warder Soul drops, though, I’ll have gotten to the point where I can make better noises—and hopefully even play tunes. I’ve been taking lessons for several months now with a highly skilled teacher, and there are all sorts of things I’ve come to learn about the subtle nuances of motion a fiddle player needs to keep track of when she plays. You have to think about where to put your left hand’s fingers on the instrument. You have to think about where to put your right hand’s fingers on the bow. There’s a certain way you have to twist your left wrist to get your fingers into position. Your left elbow needs to work like a pendulum when you’re changing strings, just to help the angle of your fingers. Your right arm needs to stretch in certain ways as you’re bowing, to help you keep bowing in a straight line.

Which is a lot to keep track of, and that isn’t even touching on playing actual music and how you can do ornamentations and accents on tunes to make them more awesome! All of this is entirely why I wanted to take lessons with an actual teacher—because let me tell you guys, when your native instrument is the flute and you’re used to just having to think about your embouchure and what order you put your fingers down on keys, the fiddle is a whole new paradigm.

And I’m adoring learning about it all. I ain’t gonna lie, my love of music is fueling this a lot more than any needs I have as a writer. But there’s still a lot here I can mine for ways to improve how I write about Kendis. I’ve already utilized some of the ideas of what you have to do with your hands, elbows, and arms to roll over into writing about Kendis getting lessons in magic, just because for me—and by extension, my characters—music and magic are often one and the same.

What about the rest of you? Writers, have you taken up new hobbies as a result of characters you’ve written, or are planning to write? Readers, have favorite characters of yours inspired you to learn a new instrument or craft or other form of art? Share your experiences with me in the comments!

Angela writes as both Angela Korra'ti and Angela Highland, and you can find out all about her books, all of whom have at least one musician in them, at! Come geek out with her about your favorite fiddle players, and find out who her favorite fiddle players are, on Facebook or Twitter.

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