That Driving Sound: Use of Tempo in Traditional Cape Breton Fiddle Performance

David Kirkland Garner


In Cape Breton traditional dance fiddling, the intimate rhythmic relationship between fiddle and feet yields smooth transitions from one tune type to another in order to facilitate the steps. Through analysis of 17 recorded performances of march, strathspey, and reel sets, I measure minute tempo fluctuations as they correspond to the concert presentation of a medley of tunes to explain the mechanics and roots of the large-scale continuous tempo acceleration. This acceleration comes out of the music’s relationship to dance, shaping the performance and helping to define the sound of Cape Breton fiddling.

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