Oliver Schroer – Horseshoes and Rainbows
Horseshoes and Rainbows is the fourth track from Oliver Schroer’s 1993 album Jigzup. I’ve identified some points of particular interest below; I encourage you to listen to the entire track and check out my full transcription.
- Oliver Schroer – fiddles, percussion
- Kelly McGowan – brush bodhran
- David Travers Smith – trumpet
- David Woodhead – fretless bass
Horseshoes and Rainbows has a simple AABB form, each section lasting 8 measures. Schroer repeats the form four full times before bringing the tune to a close with four successive A sections.
For the first pass through the tune, the fiddle plays the melody unaccompanied. The second time through the tune, a syncopated bass line is added to the A section, played on the 5-string fiddle in the instrument’s viola register. The third time through the tune, the accompaniment line splits in two, with two variations on the bass line played at once, one in each stereo channel. The fourth time through the tune, the two accompaniment lines converge, now playing nine evenly spaced notes in the space of eight beats. In the B section, a countermelody is introduced, played in unison by fiddle and trumpet. For the final four A sections, the lower accompaniment line reverts to its original form, while unison fiddle and trumpet play a countermelody.
The melody of Horseshoes and Rainbows has a few notable characteristics. From the tune’s outset, we hear a persistent four-note motif – four eighth notes in a 1+3 grouping. With the arrival of the B section, we hear a quotation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things”, and we see that the opening four-note motif is an expansion of the three-note, 1+2 motif from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s song.
Schroer plays the tune in its entirety unaccompanied before any supporting lines or countermelodies are added. At the beginning of the tune’s second repetition, Schroer introduces a bass line, played in the lower register of a 5-string fiddle – tuned C-G-D-A-E, the instrument spans the combined ranges a viola and a violin. Beneath the A section, the instrument plays a line constructed a series of syncopated ascending 3-note arpeggios (I think of it as the "birdland" motif). In the tune’s B section, this accompaniment part begins to diverge, with two variations on a shuffle pattern being played in each of the recording’s two stereo channels.
To accompany the A sections of the tune’s third repetition, the two 5-string fiddle tracks diverge further. In the right channel, the fiddle plays the same pattern as in the tune’s second repetition. While the fiddle part in the left channel plays in unison with the right channel for 6 notes, it delays the seventh note by a beat, proceeding to play the same arpeggios as in the right channel but several beats later, eventually skipping ahead in the series of notes to rejoin the right channel for the section’s final two measures.
To accompany the tune’s fourth repetition, a new variation on the A section accompaniment is introduced. Both channels are in unison again, but rather than using the syncopated rhythm of the “birdland” motif, the 5-string fiddle plays 9 evenly spaced notes in the space of 2 measures, creating a 9:8 polyrhythm.
The effect is subtle, but each of these variations to the accompaniment line creates a sense of disorientation, of being “off-kilter”. In the tune’s third repetition, a mismatch is created between the two stereo channels, with the same notes being heard in the different channels at different times. In the fourth repetition, the mismatch is between the evenly spaced notes of the accompaniment and the steady eighth-notes of the tune’s melody, with onsets lining up only at the downbeat of every other measure. A comparison between the three variations is shown below. Notice how in repetition 3, corresponding notes fall further and further behind the original accompaniment pattern, while in repetition 4, the line tends to rush ahead, with Schroer having to add extra notes to the line to make sure the harmonies implied by the accompaniment and the main tune don’t drift too far out of alignment.
In the B sections of the tune’s fourth repetition, Schroer introduces a quasi-improvised countermelody on the fiddle.
With the return of the A section, the fiddle and trumpet play a countermelody in unison which loosely follows the main tune, doubling several prominent notes. Beneath this, the bass line in the 5-string fiddle reverts to its original form, ensuring the texture doesn’t become too busy. The musicians repeat the A section four times to bring the tune to a close.
At first listen, Horseshoes and Rainbows has the appearance of a normal tune, with one or two quirks in its arrangement. Examine these quirks more closely, however, and you find that there's more to Schroer's composition than first meets the ear - the melody quotes a showtune, and the bass line splits in two and then rejoins itself before departing on a polymetric excursion. As with so many of the tracks on Jigzup, Horseshoes and Rainbows is its own little sonic planet, waiting to be explored.
Posted: Jan 28, 2021. Last updated: Apr 15, 2021.