By Natalie Padilla | From the July-August 2023 issue of Strings Magazine
“Forget Me Not,” named after the small blue wildflowers (see music below), is a simple folk waltz that was composed after I attended a fiddle camp years ago. I was inspired by the magic that happens when fiddle players meet up and do nothing but play the fiddle for five days—it’s fantastic and I can’t recommend it enough!
Player: Fiddler, session musician, teacher, and recording artist Natalie Padilla was immersed in fiddle and violin music at a very young age. Her diverse background has allowed her to explore the traditions of Texas-style, old-time, Celtic, and bluegrass fiddle, as well as classical violin, clawhammer banjo, and folk singing. She earned a music performance degree from the University of Northern Colorado and has released three albums of original music.
Title of Work: “Forget Me Not” from Montana Wildflower
Composer: Natalie Padilla
Date Composed: Album released March 2023
Name of Edition Studied: Heartseed Music, BMI
I’ve always been drawn to waltzes; their melodies and chords can easily take you into the lands of melancholy and love, leaving you time to honor the past and wish for the future… while dancing with a partner in three-quarter time if you’re lucky enough. This particular tune is simple in its structure, key, and harmonies, making it a nice fit for the intermediate fiddler or violinist.
I was lucky to grow up in a musical family, exposed to bluegrass and Texas fiddling at an early age. Both styles incorporate a lot of harmony, or what we refer to as “twin fiddle”—though that can be a confusing term because the parts aren’t being twinned at all! My sister and mom both play fiddle, and we did a lot of double- and triple-harmony fiddling, so I tend to hear things that way when writing music. Much like three-part bluegrass harmony singing, the melody sits in the middle (though rules are loose in folk music), then the higher harmony is generally a third above, like the tenor part, and then the baritone fits roughly a fifth lower than the melody note. These notes then all fit within the harmonic chord structure of the tune, so some thirds and fifths must be adjusted to fourths and other intervals. When there are just two parts, it is most likely going to be the melody with the higher tenor part added. However, on bowed stringed instruments, you can play two notes at a time, making it possible to hit the three parts with just two instruments.
Montana Wildflower is my third release of original music, and I was thrilled to be working with Canadian multi-instrumentalist and sound engineer Quinn Bachand on this project. With Quinn engineering, playing, and mixing, and myself producing and playing, we did a lot of overdubbing to create a fuller sound. For “Forget Me Not,” I recorded the harmony fiddle part as well as the melody, taking more of an old-time fiddle harmony approach with a lot of open strings incorporated into the double-stops and not being so strict with providing three distinct parts at all times. To do this, you must have a strong sense of the melody and chords. I enjoy teaching this skill to students, as it requires so much more than just learning notes but feeling the harmony changes and knowing how they fit into the melody notes. It takes a lot of time and practice, but it is such a useful skill to have as a musician in any genre.
I love the long phrases in a waltz. In a typical square dance tune, Irish jig, or reel, the phrases tend to be two bars long, where a waltz generally has four bars per phrase. As a classical violinist, I enjoy the slower tempos of the waltzes—they allow the freedom to shape a phrase dynamically and musically, with more of an ebb and flow than dance tunes usually permit.
The backup players—what we call the instruments that aren’t playing the melody—have a more supportive, rhythmic, and chordal role. In a waltz, this can be done in two ways: a more traditional “boom chuck chuck” or the feeling of one big beat per measure. With the first, the boom gets played as the bass note and the chucks are higher notes in the chord—like on a piano, the left hand would play the boom and the chucks would be chords in the right. For the latter, the chord is played on beat one, usually nothing on beat two and a little something on beat three leading back into beat one. If you listen for this in “Forget Me Not,” you’ll notice there’s a mix of the two throughout the arrangement, and I encourage you to explore this idea when playing waltzes. It can add creative freedom for the backup players and a nice shape for dynamics.
Whether you’re in the beginning stages of your stringed instrument journey or are a seasoned professional, a simple waltz can be enjoyed by all with the space and freedom to create your own arrangements and harmonies. Thank you for taking the time to dive into the land of waltzes with me!