My Grandfather’s Fiddle – A Tribute By Mike Madigan

July 11, 2009

Do you own your Grandfather’s fiddle? I don’t. At least not yet. It remains in my mom’s closet untouched and hasn’t been played since the day he died. But I borrowed my grandfather’s fiddle one memorable night and wrote a song about this. The first verse goes like this:
I got a loan of my Grandfather’s fiddle,
It’s unlike anything you’ve seen before.
The strings are old, the bow is weak
The bridge is warped, the keys won’t keep;
But you should have seen him play that “St .Anne’s Reel”.
There’s a nice touching story about my grandfather’s
fiddle I’d like to share with anyone who can relate to
the power of an old fiddle within the family.
Not many people know that my mother’s side of the family hails from a small town in la belle Province de
Quebec called St.Felix de Valois. My “grandpapa” Jules Geoffroy, as we called him, was the town fiddler there and when we used to visit my grandparents each summer I used to intently watch him play his fiddle. The reel that stands out most in my memory is “La Reel de St.Anne” as it was called en francais. All Irish and Scottish fiddlers love to play that reel.
It was only when I was attending MUN (Memorial University of Newfoundland) in St.John’s at age 18 that I found an old fiddle up in the attic of St.Bon’s and I remember dropping in the famous O’Brien’s Music store to get it outfitted with strings, bridge and bow. I began to fool around with it and was quite pleased with myself that I had somewhat mastered the St.Anne’s Reel in no time at all, despite the squeaks and squawks. I couldn’t Wait to visit my grandpapa Jules and show him what I could do. I knew he would be so pleased and I so much wanted to play along with him.
Of course life has a way of throwing those mean curves at you and my dear Grandpapa died a month before summer. But I attended his funeral and after the funeral, as was the Quebec custom, everyone was invited downstairs in the Church basement to have a meal. That’s when my “grandmaman” brought over his old fiddle to me and said, “Veux-tu jouer la violon de Grandpapa?”
Now the basement was filled with relatives. My Grandfather was one of twenty one brothers and sisters and there were more Geoffroys there than you could imagine! What could I do but say, “Oui”?
That’s when I opened his old black fiddle box case and I guess I really looked at the fiddle for the first time. Yes, the strings were indeed old; the horsehairs on the bow were few, the bridge was warped, and just trying to get it in tune was the longest three or four minutes of my life. But I managed to get it in tune, and with everyone watching intently, I walked up to a microphone and cranked out the St. Anne’s Reel like I actually knew what I was doing. People started to clap with the beat (which almost threw me off for a second) and when I finished a couple of moments later, up came the applause! My grandmaman, a rather hefty woman, then gave me the biggest bear hug and whispered in my ear,
“Tu ma donne la vision de grandpapa! Merci, merci, merci Michel!”
I felt so honoured by her embrace and words. They live with me to this day.
Later that evening I borrowed my grandfather’s fiddle and wrote two more verses. The last verse says it all about my wanting to restore the old fiddle:
I’d like to restore my Grandfather’s fiddle
By putting new strings tight around new keys.
But I won’t restore the physical things
But only the tunes that the memories bring;
And Grandmaman wil get that feeling
When she hears that St.Anne’s reeling
And her and mom will see Grandpapa once more.
Chorus: Yes, I got a loan of my Grandfather’s fiddle,
It hasn’t been played since the day he died.
But now that I’ve learned how to play
I can bring back memories of the day;
I can almost make my mother cry,
Put teardrops in the my Grandmaman’s eyes
Whenever I play that old St.Anne’s Reel!
On our first Cd NATURAL, you can hear “My Grandfather’s Fiddle” song and how we weave the St. Anne’s Reel throughout it. It’s a simple piece that brings back wonderful memories of my grandpapa and his fiddle playing. Will I ever actually “restore” his old fiddle one day when it gets handed down to me? I might. But for now, I’ll just “store” the thoughts of fiddling days gone by.
(Mike Madigan is a member of the Sharecropper Trio, in Pasadena, Newfoundland. mike@thesharecroppers.net)

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