The term “Fiddlebot” was created by a group of Chris’ teenage fiddle students who understood and practiced creativity when playing music in jam sessions and during fiddle contests. Unfortunately, they often placed behind other contestants who they considered to be technicians instead of musicians. Meaning, a technician could only produce an overly practiced, memorized, and relatively short version of a small list of songs designed for use in fiddle contests, while musicians had a large song list and actively sought to vary the length and breadth of any song performed during a jam session, fiddle contest, or other performance.
Additionally, this group of Chris’ students who coined the term also played guitar in contests and jam sessions; not just for each other, but also for many of those same technicians who, coincidentally, did not play guitar and seemed to have no desire to learn. Moreover, an air of expectation accompanied some of the non-guitar playing, non-accompaniests, while awaiting the musicians to provide the backup at contests and jam sessions.
When these young musicians attended a local or even regional contest, they spent most of their day preparing others, including the technicians, to compete by warming them up and going on stage. Consequently, the musicians had little or even no time to play the fiddle themselves except during their own contest performance. This is not an exaggeration, I watched it happen numerous times. It didn’t take long before resentment replaced joy as the primary emotion felt by these young musicians when attending a fiddle contest.
When fiddling, any of Chris’ students were used to playing a song for as long as they wanted, usually between two and four minutes. Moreover, their renditions always changed; they sought creativity in their own playing and respected it in others. A technician plays a song for about one minute and fifteen seconds. The rendition is memorized, designed for use in a fiddle contest, and practiced without variation.
This kind of memorized fiddlebot approach limits risk, by offering the judges little to criticize. Fiddlebots usually place well at contests, many times ahead of contestants who aren’t seeking to limit their risk, but are seeking to display their musicianship and fiddling ability.
Eventually, Chris’ group of student musicians sought a label for memorized, no variation, designed for a contest, riskless, repetitive, automatic pilot, and stale fiddling that often prevailed in contests. During a jam session one evening, Christine King came up with the now infamous term, “Fiddlebot”.
Just One Example:
Once upon a time in the not too distant past, a former national junior champion stayed with us for several days while traveling to a contest in another state. Of course we hosted a couple of jam sessions.
When it came time for our guest to fiddle, the person chose a well known breakdown and played it for one minute and fifteen seconds. Another breakdown lasted a minute and fifteen seconds, then a tune of choice was played for a minute fifteen, followed by a waltz of about the same length, and so forth until all twelve, all four rounds, of the contest songs were played. When asked, this person indicated other songs were known but had not been played in a long time.
When it was his turn to play on the second night, one of our students told him to play his breakdown longer by going back to the beginning without stopping, and play it through a second time. After considerable hesitation, he tried but failed. Even after some instruction, he could not start over without stopping. Additionally, we learned this national junior champion had never played a song and then passed it to another fiddler, nor had he ever had a song passed to him.
Christine King playing “Tom and Jerry”!
This is an example of Christine’s playing when she was fourteen. She is playing “Tom and Jerry” during a late night jam session at our home in Colorado while surrounded by a group of teenage guitar players including Sydney Green, Cam Cross, Noel Daring, and maybe more. Tom Weisgerber and I contributed our minimum of adult influence.