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June 2007 · Bimonthly

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The Golden Eagle Hornpipe

by Stacy Phillips

Hornpipes were once a part of the American entertainment scene; a specific dance and style of playing tunes, often performed by specialists on the vaudeville and minstrel stages.

The Golden Eagle Hornpipe is an example of what recent American fiddlers have done this genre of dance music. The swung (sometimes dotted 1/8 - 1/16 note) rhythm of the British style has been abandoned and the 1/8 notes are held almost evenly. The first of each pair is held slightly longer, and even this is smoothed out with increasing tempos. They are approached as typical reels or hoedowns (albeit, note-y examples).

This version is from a setting by the peerless Texas fiddler, Benny Thomasson. He was one of a small coterie of fiddlers who, in the 1940's and `50's, created a contest-based approach to fiddling that put a relative importance on constant variation of the basic melody.

Nowadays everyone who plays the western "contest" style is a Thomasson acolyte, knowingly or unknowingly. Many thousands more were inspired by the playing and magnanimous personality of this remarkable gentleman, Benny Thomasson.

In the first section, the G arpeggios are demanding with lots of quick string crossing. In the second part the demanding part is figuring when to jump up to a higher hand position to grab the high C note, and when to return to first. I like to go to 2nd position on the 'A' pickup note to measure 14 and come back to 1st by stretching back with my first finger for the first 'F#' in measure 14.

This transcription is taken from my book, Favorite American Hornpipes for Fiddle (#20582). This book contains presents over a hundred classic and lesser known fiddle tunes in hornpipe style from all parts of the United States, some with multiple versions.

All are transcribed from performances of the greatest traditional fiddlers of the past and present including Benny Thomasson, Bob Walters, Howdy Forrester, James Bryan, Rodney Miller, Ruthie Dornfeld, and dozens more. Bowings and chord accompaniment are included.

This book will also be of value to students of classical music. Hornpipes can also serve as effective and fun exercises for all violin students, not just fiddlers. Some of them could have come right out of the baroque period of art music, but they also illustrate America's great tradition of fiddling.

Please visit Stacy's web site at

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