I started learning to play fiddle tunes when I was seventeen and had a crush on a gal who was into the folk and folk dance scene in the Boston area where I did most of my growing up. I told her I had a mandolin that I'd found in my grandfather's closet and she gave me Cole's 1001 Fiddle Tunes and circled a few tunes for me to learn. I had some facility because I'd been playing the cello since fourth grade so I picked up a flat pick and gave it my best effort. It didn't end up getting me munch traction with the girl, but it did introduce me to the magic of a fiddle tune - each one a little world unto itself - beautifully compact, symmetrical, beautiful melodies, and an A and B part that were like the yin and yang of musical form. I went on to get a degree in music and I studied fugues, sonatas, counterpoint and I appreciated the evolution and sense and beauty of these forms. But with my love of mandolin and clawhammer banjo it was fiddle tunes that started to emerge in my mid-twenties. There was a variety of inspirations for these. When I sit around and play by myself it's generally a mixture of drills & exercises, tunes that I already know just for fun and sometimes to improve my playing of them, and sometimes it's just whimsical improvisation. Out of the latter a little melodic phrase may appear. I record this so I won't forget it then let this phrase lead to another, always in search of that beauty of melodic shape that I loved in all of the traditional tunes that I had learned and played so many times. After completing a standard 8-bar A-part (which is generally repeated in a fiddle tune, sometimes with a second ending, sometimes without) I'd look for a contrasting beginning for a B-part, then let that lead me down a compelling path through the next 8-bars. I'd keep recording my progress so I wouldn't have to worry about forgetting something. Some folks might call this following the muse. I try to name the tune immediately after writing it so there is some organic connection to the moment. Full Moon is pretty obvious. Another is The Fallling Waters of Arden - I wrote that while out on my back deck with my sprinkler going back and forth, and the name of my neighborhood is Arden. All Full Up was written after a big meal. Chelsea Town was written while I was in London with Footworks, performing in the first London Run of Riverdance. I don't have a very good long-term memory so these tunes are almost like snapshots from my life, helping me stay connected with my past experiences.
Then there are tunes that I have written when feeling some emotion. All My Children emerged while I was watching a video of my younger brother playing with his young children in far off Israel where he lived at the time. I wrote Julie's Waltz after a dream I had of an old flame.
Another category is events. I wrote the Samolynn Waltz while selling hotdogs in downtown Nashville around 1982 for the wedding of friends Sam and Lynn Bush. I wrote Black Mountain Air for the wedding of some other friends who were married in Black Mountain, North Carolina. I wrote For Carol for a favorite aunt who had died.
"Mark's Compositions" is a compilation of brief snippets of a handful of my tunes from two solo CDs that I recorded for Rounder Records: Brand New Old Tyme Way and Steppin' in the Boiler House.