Charming the fiddle

Charming the fiddle
Uncle Willie’s fiddle – note the rattles on top.

This past summer my wife visited some kin in Missouri and came home with a violin, or fiddle. Violins have been an interest to me since I tried to find my mother’s violin after returning home following a few years’ absence. I don’t do music but I was interested in the construction of a violin which I consider to be one of the two top arts of woodworking. The other being a sailing vessel.

The fiddle my wife brought home was her uncle Willie’s from Gainesville, Texas. When examining the instrument I discovered something in the body which turned out to be rattlesnake rattles. This was interesting and baffling. A few weeks ago I had dinner with Deb Goodrich Bisel and her husband, Gary, who is a very accomplished musician. I ask about the rattles and Deb said the fiddle was the Devil’s instrument and rattlesnake rattles were put in his fiddle to charm the fiddle.

This, of course, posed two questions: why is the fiddle considered the Devil’s instrument and how do the rattles charm the fiddle? We didn’t come up with any answers during dinner so I did some quick research. Some ultra-conservative Christian church doctrine prohibits music, dancing, card playing, etc. Therefore, because the lively fiddle music sets toes to tapping and soon leads to dancing, i.e. sin, it must be an instrument of the Devil. Deb is from Virginia and Uncle Willie was from Texas so this may be a Southern belief and tradition.

Any additional information would be welcome. In the meantime I’m going to visit with my friend next door who is a fiddle player and see what he might know about charming the fiddle.

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