I often play with a friend in his 80's whose family has been well known for three generations for its dedication to keeping the flame well lit for traditional music from many cultures. The one thing he taught me about fiddle tunes, is that when you sincerely focus on playing them well enough to share with others, you step into the flow of a historical continuum which goes back hundreds of years. This tradition of dipping into a very deep musical well makes me feel I'm doing something beyond myself. These days, I try to instill that same sense of continuum with the young people I play with.
When i started playing fiddle tunes for contra dance, I knew immediately I had to reinvent my own commitment to mandolin. I learned how to play much more cleanly and at a sometimes incomprehensible speed I had formerly associated only with bluegrass. Today, I noticed on the Cafe an old post by John McGann about learning how to move your fingers (both left hand and right) to minimize energy depletion and play every note cleanly. This advice is critical if your bag is fiddle tunes.
At any dance I perform, I'm playing in at least 4 different time signatures, using 5 different scales in several different keys. Perhaps the most challenging (and the most satisfying) aspect is playing melody and harmony at the same time, which is what double stops achieve. My point here is not that the necessary skill level surpasses jazz or blues or bluegrass, but that a mastery of fiddle tunes takes at least the same amount of mandolin savvy.
Grub Springs, Fanny Powers Waltz, and Minnie Foster's Hornpipe couldn't be any more different in style, mood, and technique. Learning well, and playing creatively, just these three fiddle tunes out of thousands, necessitates mastering most every mandolin technique there is. Or listen to Swinging on a Gate (below) to comprehend that some of these songs are as strong on melody as any jazz standard, and are long overdue for creative playing as well as deconstruction.