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 much traction with the girl, but it did introduce me to the magic of a fiddle tune, each one a little world unto itself - beautiful melodies that are compact, symmetrical, generally with an A and B part that elegantly represent 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 I started to write in my mid-twenties. There is 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.
After recording my first CD, Brand New Old Tyme Way on Rounder Records, I did occasional shows to promote the project. For one of these shows I hired Jim Hurst on guitar, Missy Raines on bass, and Casey Driessen on fiddle. There was an alchemy in this configuration that made my tunes really come to life and I did a good bit of touring with these wonderful musicians from 2000 to 2003 as Mark Schatz and Friends. It culminated with the recording of my second solo project, Steppin' in the Boiler House.
Included here is a selection of my compositions drawn from these two solo projects.