By Rodney Miller
Pandemic Panaceas: Birth in the Time of the Pandemic
The Rodney Miller Collection of Original Fiddle Tunes
I have been working on tunes and the thought of a tune book for decades. It took the covid pandemic—and the isolation it imposed (see “All Alone and All One,” pages 4-5 in tune book)—to finally get it done. It’s been a labor and a love.
Now that I have reached “The Other Side of Light” (page 256), I can reflect on the whole process, 270 tunes in all. I began composing fiddle tunes in the early 1980s, following in the footsteps of Ralph Page, Dudley Laufman, and the inimitable and prolific tune writer, Bob McQuillen.
Having played the instrument for most of my life, fiddle is my second language. I express thoughts and emotions in my music, from everyday life experiences to my many gig trips. I respond to beautiful landscapes (“Valley of Flowers,” page 270), fond memories of dances (“Bluemont Waltz,” page 225, and “After the Dance,” page 219), or wacky notions of what a “Zombie Ant” (page 198) at work might sound like, to name a few.
Here’s my tune “Yosemite” as an example of the effect that stunning natural beauty has had on my writing. Yosemite National Park, in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, is famed for its ancient sequoia trees, the iconic view of Bridal Veil Falls, and the granite faces of El Capitan and Half Dome. The naturalist John Muir was closely associated with Yosemite (“March of the Mountains,” page 104, is another Muir-inspired tune). He helped create the park and co-founded the Sierra Club in 1892 to protect it.
“Yosemite” Compositional Notes:
A part (measures 1-16): This part reflects my feeling driving along the scenic winding, forested road into Yosemite Park, hence the light-hearted, slightly meandering melodic phrases, full of expectation.
B part (measures 17-32): This part reflects the jaw-dropping moments when El Capitan and Half Dome appeared at the end of the Tunnel View, captured by the first opening, prolonged, lowest and ringing note on the fiddle, the open G string, for El Capitan, and the second low G note in measure 5, for Half Dome, accompanied by majestic sounding suspended G chords.
I hope you’ll check out my new baby (“Oh, Baby,” page 120). You can order the book at rodneymiller.net. I’ve also created accompanying collections of music tracks (Gems Vol. 1-3) for some of the tunes in the book and posted them at rodneymiller.bandcamp.com. A recorded version of “Yosemite” will be included in the soon-to-be-released Gems Vol. 4. I hope the extensive footnotes and introductory sections of the book are worth the read, no matter what musical or non-musical persuasion. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org; I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Designated a “Master Fiddler” in 1983 by the National Endowment for the Arts, Rodney Miller is widely considered to be the foremost exponent of New England style fiddling, a uniquely American blend of French Canadian and Celtic influences. Over the past 40 years, he has toured the U.S., British Isles, Australia, and Denmark, performed and taught at hundreds of music and dance festivals, and recorded numerous fiddle albums. Rodney served as NH Artist Laureate, 2014-2016.
Listen to Julie Vallimont interview Rodney about his history as a fiddler on the Contra Pulse Podcast.