Notes on the Tunes

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17. Polly Put the Kettle On

As with many fiddlers of our generation, the Round Peak style of Tommy Jarrell was the first setting I heard of this piece. But this floating title adheres itself to a number of unrelated tunes. Marcus Martin learned this archaic tune from J.D. Harris, which he says is in Bb. Dan Gellert, recording it on Waitin’ on the Break of Day, said it was in Gm. I asked him about that and his response illustrates one of the challenges of Old-Time fiddling. “The question ‘What key is it in?’ doesn’t always have a simple answer…In this tune the E is always natural, so it might better be called G dorian-mode, but then there’s that harmonic-minor F# in there, the B-almost-natural, and assorted other microtones, so it’s not really in a mode. Old-time music doesn’t fit easily into the categories of European academic musicology. The relative minor of Bb major is G minor, and the tune ends on the G, so that’s what I called it. No difference,  really.” To confuse matters, Martin tunes his fiddle a whole step; we have not.

Chris’ Strad GDAE : Whitt’s Dobson dGDGBb