Mary Ann Harbar
Gypsy Violin
(Mel Bay, 1997)

If the sound of a wild Gypsy violin moves your spirit, Mary Ann Harbar's Gypsy Violin, a tunebook and CD set, is a great place to learn the technique.

The book alone is a wonderful resource. It's packed with about four dozen tunes, many harmony lines and variations included. Guitar chords are a must, and Harbar provides them throughout.

Although not bogged down with text, the book provides brief histories of some tunes, as well as tips for performing them. A brief introduction describes the differences between a Gypsy violinist and her classical or folk counterpart, and suggests tips for practicing in this style. There's a quick reference chart at the end, since the markings on a Gypsy tune differ somewhat from some styles, and a detailed glossary of words familiar (many of us already know that legato means "smooth, sustained bowing" and that a hora is "a broad term encompassing many Eastern European dance types") and strange (fraigish -- "probably the most popular Klezmer scale," joc -- "a slow hora in three," verbunk -- "a military-style tune in march time").

Mel Bay is also one of those thoughtful music publishers who know that a ringed binding makes it easier to plop the book down on a music stand and play along. For that alone, Mel Bay deserves thanks!

While it might be possible to learn Gypsy techniques straight from the book, the companion CD makes the learning process easier.

The CD boasts the amazingly fluid, passionate fiddling of Harbar, assisted by Greg Harbar on accordion, Zhenya Kolykhanov, Kelly Lancaster and Barry Roberts on guitar, Dave Peters on mandolin, David Klingensmith and Alexis Valk on upright bass, Kelly Lancaster and Barry Roberts on bass balalaika, Barry Roberts on electric bass and Kelly Lancaster on mandobass. There are no liner notes, but that's hardly a downside in this case -- there's 131 pages in the book which provide far more information than most liner notes even dream of.

It can almost stand alone as a CD for purely listening enjoyment. But the tracks are often too short for entertainment purposes -- this was obviously recorded and arranged as an instructional piece, not a separate entity. The shortest track, "Kinokio," is only 31 seconds long, and many tracks fall under a minute. Only a handful stretch longer than two or three; one, "Bihari Kesergo," is a whopping 5:13.

But the brevity of the tracks makes room for a lot more samples for someone trying to learn the technique. There are 45 tracks in all -- no medleys, each stands separate for simpler learning. Even after the first time through the album, I knew some of these tunes would demand to be learned. Not that duplicating Harbar's style will be easy -- be prepared to put in some long hours of practice before you can hope to fool the Gypsies.

Don't let that stop you. This is an exciting style of performance, and we could certainly use a few more fiddlers out there who can play with Harbar's skill and spirit. Fortunately, she's willing to teach us how. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some rehearsing to do.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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