Diary of a Possibly Stupid and Impossible Project, Part 1: In Which We Learn Some More of Our Limitations

I have been playing the classical violin since grade school/junior high, and for years (particularly since I moved to my current charming rural abode) people have asked me whether I could play Charlie Daniels’ Devil Went Down to Georgia. I have never really wanted to play this song, of course — I was trained as a violinist, not a fiddle player, and the technique differences really do matter. Watch, for instance, this absolutely amazing bit with Nadja Salerno Sonnenberg (awesome classical violinist), Eileen Ivers (awesome fiddler of the Irish traditional sort), and Regina Carter (awesome jazz violinist). Pay particular attention to the subtle differences in bow hold, in left hand technique, in chinrest location and posture, in tone…these women are phenomenal:

I point this out now because I have gotten myself into some trouble. I have accepted A Dare. I, a not-so-awesome classical violinist and neophyte fiddler, must complete a challenge: to record a version of Devil Went Down to Georgia for a friend of mine. Now, compared to some of what the trio above did, Charlie Daniels isn’t so difficult, but still…have a look. Technique differences matter.

Ol’ Charlie’s sawing in a different style from Eileen Ivers, obviously, although it’s a style with similar technical rules (check the chin and bowhold, for example). It’s a bit…intimidating. It’s also very, very weird for a classical player. It’s a much crunchier, wilder sound than we are usually permitted to play. What’s frightening about it isn’t the notes — intonation’s acceptably fluid here. What’s frightening is the energy, the style, the crunchy confidence required to shred bowhair like you own a hundred-head herd of resuppliers. That scares the crap out of me.

Also: Marty Stuart’s hair? What the hell? 

No, seriously. What the hell?
There’s another problem, though. I think, in the end, the fiddling’s what scares me the least. I know that with a little effort, I can create a version of this song that will pass amateur-hour muster, although it certainly won’t be a note-for-note copy (which I wouldn’t want to do anyway — if I’m covering something, I want to mess it up a bit and make it mine). What really makes this an impossible challenge is the fact that I’m going to be recording all of the instruments myself, not just the fiddle. I’m cutting down the instrumentation a bit, I think — there will be a bass and probably only one electric guitar (assuming my electric tenor arrives from Canada in time to meet my arbitrary deadline), and perhaps my acoustic tenor for rhythm stuff. I’m cheating and using a drum loop in Garage Band (already cued up and waiting), because I simply haven’t got the most rudimentary percussion chops. There will be no piano, because I am even worse at that than I am at drumming (and I am abysmally bad at drumming).

I am insane.

This morning, I took a little break from catching up on my grading and reading to work on the bass line.


I can do one part REALLY well — the “duh duh DUUUUUUH” bit. I f*cking ROCK that.


Stupid and Impossible. WOOHOO!


About L. M. Bernhardt

For a good long while (15+ years), I taught philosophy at a little private university in northwest IA, and occasionally branched out into playing music, dabbling in photography, experimenting with food, and writing nonsense on my blog. The philosophy teaching part ended in 2017 (program elimination via prioritization), but never fear! I've recently finished my MLIS at San Jose State University, and I'm currently on the market looking for new adventures in either philosophy or LIS. For now, I labor at a fairly interesting administrative job in order to support my dogs in the lavish manner to which they've become accustomed.
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One Response to Diary of a Possibly Stupid and Impossible Project, Part 1: In Which We Learn Some More of Our Limitations

  1. teledude says:

    So very cool


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