Fiddle players negotiating 12 hours of
musical perfection for the eternal cost of their souls, contests with the The Stranger...string instruments called the Devil's Box...uncontrollable dancing under the influence of a possessed
is a common theme. Many cultures view the "fiddle" as somehow evil, tainted by "Ol' Scratch", excepting gypsies.
Then we’d sit there and sip on our bottle and talk about things like the ancient fear of the fiddle. According to Ansel, it seems the early American colonists had inherited certain occult superstitions from the European religious fanatics of the Middle Ages. One of these was the belief that the fiddle was an instrument of the Devil himself. It was an absolutely forbidden instrument throughout colonial America. No one was even allowed to own a fiddle, much less play one. Nevertheless covert fiddle societies began to spring up. They would gather deep in the woods under the cover of darkness and hang their fiddles in oak trees, leaving them overnight under the full moon in the belief that the Devil would visit the instrument and inhabit the wood with his spirit. Other factions feared this possession by the Devil and carved grotesque faces into the necks of their fiddles toward off any visitation. Fiddle contests sprang out of these early clandestine meetings, similar to those found on the Mississippi Delta between guitar players two hundred years later. At the heart of these contests was the persistent belief in the Devil’s influence of the music. If a fiddler demonstrated a particular flair for improvisation and seemed to drift off into a world of his own, this was a sure sign of his conspiring with the Dark Forces.
Tale told 5/16/89 (Scottsville, Virginia) from “Cruising Paradise” by Sam Shepard
There have been some good fiddle features in the movies in recent years. "Songcatcher", starring Janet McTeer is about American Appalachian music that had (set in 1907) survived intact, passed down from mother to daughter, father to son, since the fore-bearers came to America from England, Ireland and Scotland. The fear of the devil manifested by fiddle and song is one theme in this movie.
"Oh Brother, Where Art Thou" is another movie featuring “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” which is high in the Fiddle Fear Factor. I didn't like the film that much - it was a stupid play on "The Odyssey" set in the American depression, but the music was outstanding.
There is a parallel with American Bluegrass (or at least Appalachian based) music and old English ballads. I'm tied to Appalachian history, that is where my mom's family is from. I love good Appalachian fiddle players and twangy voices! My daughter-in-law plays the Celtic harp, big circles and little circles.
"...And if you'd care to take a dare, I'll make a bet with you."