"Bring the beater fiddle." "Don’t worry, it’s just a beater guitar." "Was that your travel mando?" "Stage instrument." "Leave it in the car, it’s a beater." "Banjo." -
These are phrases of the past - phases of the a bygone era - the "beater" instrument. Today, I put my fiddle in the sand and make a stand: an optimistic ideal that asks, "What can we do with this instrument that we cannot do with our expensive axe?" Welcome to the age of the "stunt fiddle."
Stunt: noun; "an action displaying spectacular skill and daring" or "something unusual done to attract attention." (found on Google Dictionary)
In the movies, a stunt double replaces the famous actor or actress to accomplish dangerous and impressive feats. Evel Knievel famously jumped large distances on a motorcycle as America’s preeminent stunt performer. Something amazing! Something unexpected! Something to wow your friends and strangers! Something fun! Something imaginative! Something unique!
A stunt fiddle is not an ordinary fiddle. A stunt fiddle can be left in a car in three degree weather while you earn your turns to ski two feet of fresh powder. A stunt fiddle can be played while skiing! A stunt fiddle can be played while skydiving. A stunt fiddle is fiddle-shaped and can make music where your ordinary expensive fiddle cannot.
A stunt guitar is not an ordinary guitar. A stunt guitar can be played floating down a river. A stunt guitar can be played while stand-up paddleboarding. A stunt guitar is guitar-shaped and can make music where your ordinary expensive guitar cannot.
A stunt cello is not an ordinary cello. Joy Adams carries her stunt cello to play Bach on the tallest mountains. Rushad Eggleston plays cello hanging from festival rafters. The new patented Block Strap can be deployed to free the cellist from chairs and endpins, facilitating new and more impressive cello-playing strategies. A stunt cello is cello-shaped and can make music where your ordinary expensive cello cannot.
A banjo is already a stunt instrument. A banjo can go places and make music where other instruments cannot. A meteorologist named Leonard Hussey brought a banjo to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s "Imperial TransAntarctic Expedition" in 1915. When the crew was ordered to abandon ship and bring only what was vital to survival, Shackleton made sure Hussey brought his banjo (12 lbs.) His playing in the coming months while stranded on the ice is credited with saving the mental health of the rest of the crew.
My name is Andy Reiner and I am the skiing fiddler. I have four stunt fiddles and two stunt mandolins. I am a Yamaha Performing Artist (YEV-105 and Acoustic Stunt Fiddle) and a Codabow Ambassador, and I have a podcast called River of Suck. With a careful selection of instruments and gear, I can play music in the worst of weather, take managed risks and continue to perform when the show must go on! My fiancé, Joy Adams, is a stunt cellist. Our band, Half Pelican, performs music while skiing, and we hike Colorado 14ers (mountains above 14,000’) with our instruments, performing fiddle tunes, free improvisations and Bach on the summits above the clouds.
I am not arguing that our finest instruments are incapable of accompanying us on our life journeys. In many cases, musicians’ best instruments have survived intense travels, disastrous weather, and centuries of time. These instruments are still passed down, bought and sold, restored, copied, and played. I am arguing there are times where both professional and amateur musicians find themselves planning adventures and travels, during which they would not ordinarily bring an instrument due to inclement weather, lack of security (stolen instruments!), or action sports.
In these cases, a stunt instrument can bring music, light, happiness, creativity and joy to new places where music may never have been played before. A stunt instrument is an invitation - an opportunity - to find new places and ways to play music. Music: the universal language! How human is it to climb a mountaintop only to appreciate the view and play music? What is the purpose of this? What is the meaning of life anyway, if not for the pursuit of happiness and to enjoy the ride?
A stunt instrument solves the problem of worrying about the safety of your instrument. How much money is peace of mind worth? A stunt instrument should be relatively cheap or free, to the point of being replaceable should anything catastrophic occur. A stunt instrument may be more difficult to play, and sound more nasal than your favorite, but it will be there for you when your fine expensive instrument rests peacefully at home.
So next time you refer to your spare instrument and bring it on an adventure, call it your stunt fiddle, stunt guitar, stunt cello, stunt mandolin, stunt instrument, or banjo. Leave the beater in the garbage bin of history. Tell your friends. Tell your enemies. Rummage through your local thrift stores and pawn shops. Buy that old guitar with the scratches and gouges. Dig up your old student instrument. Hound your relatives for what’s hidden in closets and attics. Keep your eyes open and your ears peeled. And next time, bring your stunt instrument so you always have music with you.Tweet
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