The Pirate Fiddler in How Sweet the Sound
Along with coming up with names for the fictionalized pirates in Samuel Mason’s gang (a very real pirate described here), I had to give each a bit distinguishing characteristic. So “Tommy” has a fiddle. Naturally, he needed a tune to play, because when you’re “showing not telling” it would never do to say “Tommy played a fiddle tune.”
The song that popped into my head first was “Old Joe Clark,” but a quick Google search proved it wasn’t old enough to have been played in 1797.
But bless Google’s heart! When I searched on “oldest known fiddle tune” I found “Soldier’s Joy,” which dates back to the 1760s. Perfect. So now my sentence reads: “Tommy took up his fiddle and began to play “Soldier’s Joy.” Now that I think about it, Tommy was probably a Revolutionary War veteran, as Samuel Mason was.
My dad used to play “Soldier’s Joy” back in the day, but I couldn’t remember how the tune went. So again, Google came to the rescue. So if you want to know how Tommy sounded, here’s a handy Youtube video of a man (although presumably not a pirate) playing it.
In the same WIKIPEDIA ARTICLE I read (always taken with a grain of research salt) I discovered an interesting tidbit about the second meaning to the title:
“Soldier’s Joy” is a fiddle tune, classified as a reel or country dance. It is popular in the American fiddle canon, in which it is touted as “an American classic” but traces its origin to Scottish fiddling traditions, and Irish fiddle traditions. It has been played in Scotland for over 200 years, and Robert Burns used it for the first song of his cantata ‘The Jolly Beggars’. According to documentation at the United States Library of Congress, it is “one of the oldest and most widely distributed tunes” and is rated in the top ten most-played Old Time Fiddle tune. According to the Illinois Humanities Center, the tune dates as early as the 1760s. In spite of its upbeat tempo and catchy melody, the term “soldier’s joy” has a much darker meaning than is portrayed by the tune. This term eventually came to refer to the combination of whiskey, beer, and morphine used by Civil War soldiers. [Emphasis mine]
So, while it only took a couple of seconds to find the fiddle tune, it took me several minutes reading the history of the thing and pondering the plight of the poor Civil War soldiers and wondering how I could use that in a future story before I finally got back on track with the work at hand.
Do you begin to see why a historical book can be such a long time in the making?