Oliver Schroer – Toby's Reel / The Job
- Oliver Schroer – 5-string fiddle
- Christian Frappier – 6-string bass
- Don Ross – Slap guitar
Both Toby’s Reel and The Job have simple forms: each is a reel with two sections that I’ve labelled A and B, each of which lasts eight measures. Each section is repeated before moving on to the next, creating an AABB form within each tune. The A section of each tune is repeated exactly, while the final measures of each tune’s B section is varied slightly depending on whether it is leading into a B section or an A section. Toby’s Reel is repeated twice, and then The Job is repeated twice.
Here’s my transcription of Toby’s Reel.
The most notable aspect of Toby’s Reel is its range, as it includes notes that are below the range of a standard violin; it would be easily playable on a standard viola, so I have chosen to notate it in alto clef. The range of this track’s melody is discussed in further detail below.
Otherwise, Toby’s Reel is rather unremarkable: it is a reel in a fast tempo, featuring mostly running eighth-notes. The tune is in D minor, but the sixth scale degree is never played: thus, while I’ve chosen to notate it with a key signature of one flat implying a mode of D natural minor, the tune could equally be transcribed with no sharps or flats in its key signature, implying a mode of D dorian.
Here’s my transcription of The Job.
The Job features some melodic and harmonic twists and turns. Transitioning from Toby’s Reel, I hear D continue as the tonal centre in the A section. In it’s first measure, the melody of The Job contains prominent B-flats, indicating a D natural minor modality, but the melody touches on B-natural in the tune’s fourth measure, giving the section a dorian flavour.
The arrival of the B section suggests a change of tonal centre may be afoot: five of the section’s eight bars open with G minor arpeggios, all in root position. I hear both D and G as potential tonal centres for the beginning of the B section: for the first 6 measures, all of the notes are shared between the D natural minor, G natural minor and G dorian scales, and the G arpeggios can be heard either as a I-minor chord in G or as a IV-minor chord in D. In the seventh measure, we hear an E-natural, suggesting G dorian and still consistent with D natural minor. But come the eighth measure, the melody includes a prominent E-flat, suggesting G natural minor and effectively ruling out a tonal centre of D.
In the repetition of the B section, however, the last two measures are changed to provide a transition back to the A section. In these measures, we don’t hear E-flat: E sounds in both measures, and the final descent to the downbeat of the A section in fact features a B-natural, consistent with a tonality of D dorian but quite inconsistent with G natural minor or G dorian. As we can hear, The Job features frequent shifting between dorian and natural minor: on D in the A section, and on G in the B section.
As in several other of Schroer’s tunes, the melody of The Job’s A section outlines a clear harmonic progression. The opening measures consist mostly of arpeggios: of B-flat major in the first measure, C major in the second, D minor in the third, and G major in the fourth.
The high and low notes of these arpeggios outline two smooth implied lines running in counterpoint. In the first four measures, these outer voices run mostly in parallel sixths, with occasional octaves. In the section’s second four measures, this outer-voice counterpoint is varied, with neighbour-note figures added to the notes of the upper line. Below, you can compare the full melody with a reduction, featuring just the outer voices.
The 5-string Fiddle
It is worth talking a bit about the instrument Schroer plays on this track, the five-string fiddle. The five strings of this fiddle are each tuned a fifth apart: from lowest to highest, C, G, D, A and E. The instrument can be thought of as a combination of a viola (tuned C, G, D, A) and a violin (tuned G, D, A, E). Without moving out of first position, here are the notes available on each string.
Here are the highest and lowest notes found in Toby’s Reel and The Job.
Toby’s Reel has a range of two octaves, from C3 to C5, all of which is available in first position on the lower four strings of the instrument—it would fit naturally on the viola.The Job has a range of two octaves less a step, from G3 to F5, comfortably playable in first position on the instrument’s upper four strings, fitting naturally on a conventional violin. Taken together, however, the track’s melody has a range of two octaves plus a fourth. The track would be difficult to play on the viola, requiring a shift into a higher position, and impossible to play on the violin, requiring notes lower than the instrument’s lowest string. As a violin/viola hybrid, though, all these notes fit naturally on the Schroer’s 5-string fiddle.
This analysis represents a few general comments about these tunes, and there remains much that could be talked about at greater length. In particular, Christian Frappier’s bass playing stands out as a feature that makes this track compelling. I’ve provided some rough notation of the bass line for the first A and B sections of each tune in the full transcription; particularly in The Job, the bass line interacts with the fiddle’s implied harmony in interesting ways. If you have any thoughts, comments or suggestions about this track, or my analysis and transcription of it, don’t hesitate to get in touch!
Posted: Apr 6, 2021. Last updated: Apr 6, 2021.