Fiddle-L Anthology 1999

A Tour 'Round The World Of Fiddling

Performer Bio


Elaine Bradtke, London, England ( / -- Fiddle Notes: a web page for the UK fiddler)

Elaine was born October 16, 1959, in Miami, Dade County, Florida. She has a Ph.D. and is a librarian and freelance writer. She is a member of New Esperance Morris, and East Saxon Sword; both are dance groups she plays for.


Elaine's heritage is Italian and Alsatian-American. Her parents were born in Boston, Massachusetts, and Great Falls, Montana. Although she did not hear them play, she knows that possibly a great aunt or uncle played the violin. In 1987, Elaine began to play violin, while living in Baltimore, Maryland. She had been a semi-professional viola player: "I had to unlearn most of my classical training, so it wasn't exactly a benefit [to take formal classical lessons]." Elaine has had a few fiddle lessons with Pete Cooper (London) on Irish fiddle techniques, and received lots of hints from Barbara Drummond (Baltimore) on English fiddle style. Elaine has attended Fiddles at Witney and Yorkshire Dales Workshop (both in England). Barbara Drummond taught Elaine her first fiddle tune, Highland Mary (Oddington version). Her favorite fiddle tunes today are "impossible to [say]... possibly the tunes I sent on the tape, at the moment. Barbara Drummond plays both of them quite well." It makes sense that Elaine cites Drummond as her favorite fiddler.


Elaine's repertoire includes jigs, reels, lots of hornpipes, a couple of slow airs, a couple of Norwegian American waltzes, some Klezmer, a few Peruvian dance tunes. Most of her repertoire consists of "a whole bunch of English dance tunes that most American fiddlers have never heard of." She concentrates on playing fiddle, with a bit of mandolin for variety, but also plays viola and several woodwinds. Her favorite backup instrument: dancing feet! Elaine plays for dances whenever she gets the chance, and has on occasion played in church. She has played a memorial service and some weddings, both during and after the service. Her most frequent performance venues include pubs, village halls, on the street, and festivals. She is not in a band but performs with pick-up bands when opportunities arise.


While living in Baltimore, Elaine attended the Deer Creek Fiddler's Convention a couple of times. She found the jam sessions, the mule drawn cart and the clog dancers more interesting than the contest. She has also played for traditional dance competitions, including the 1998 Dancing England Rapper Tournament, where she fiddles for East Saxon Sword in the premier class. "The dancers get the prizes, I'm just there to keep their stepping together."


English traditional dance music is Elaine's predominant style, "except when I play Klezmer, Irish tunes or other stuff. This tends to be heavy on the rhythm, not particularly sweet and pretty, but functional." William Wells (also known as Jinky Wells) of Bampton, England, was an influential musician in the English dance music style.

"[There are] probably nearly as many styles as there are fiddle players. Irish [is the predominant style in my region], though the English fiddle style is slowly making a comeback, and you'd be surprised at the number of Scandanavian and American style fiddlers you bump into in London."


Elaine's violin was made in the early 20th century by "some German fellow. It's a Sears Strad - even has a fake Strad label in it. My mother bought it for $20 at a junk shop, it was in pieces, but worked nicely once reassembled. It is loudish, with a nice fat low end, and carries well in a crowd." Her shoulder rest is a Kun; she prefers Dominant strings, which are "loud and impervious to damp. [I] used to use Old Fiddler Line cause they never went out of tune when you played outside. But when they went bad, they were horrid." Elaine uses a lightweight viola bow - wood with natural horse hair. She uses black hair and a heavier bow for viola. Although she does not collect violins, she says she'd like to have a nice (spare) one for polite company (and cross tuning). Elaine has done some maintenance on her instrument, including regluing of various bits, and the fingerboard. And although she doesn't rehair bows, she can tune a piano. She has built a few things out of kits (a dulcimer and a small harp), "but the humidity did them in."


"Because it is one of the most versatile instruments in the world and I'm too lazy to drag around an accordion."

Elaine recorded the following tunes:

"Maiden's Choice. Wrote it driving to work one day (in the fall of 1991) in the Baltimore suburb of Paradise -- an advantage of not having a car radio. The title refers to Maiden Choice Lane (near my house) and a dancing computer nerd from New York who eventually became my husband.

"Cuckoo's Nest. From Barbara Drummond (in the fall of 1989?). It's an old English song which extols the joys of physical love ("at the bottom of the belly lies the cuckoo's nest"). It's also a popular tune for Morris dances. I understand that there's an American version of this tune, but I don't know if the words made it over."