Linnea Kenney – Englewood, CO

Linnea Kenney – Englewood, CO

A Note About My Music

I grew up on a farm on the land my grandfather homesteaded and in the house he and my grandmother built. My dad grew up there too. He and my mom remained hereafter they married. My mom was raised in a musical family. She sang and played the piano. The Allen family would get together each Thanksgiving and have a huge meal. Following dinner, we would all gather round and sing songs that my granddad Allen passed on to my mom, her siblings, and their children. My uncle would play the guitar and harmonica, my cousins would take turns playing the piano, one cousin played the banjo and other cousins would play their guitars as we all sang. We sang and played old time music and religious hymns. It was always a magical time.

Kaitlin Kenney, Joey McKenzie, Royce Franklin – National Oldtime Fiddlers Contest

My mom sang in the church choir and as we got older she had us join the choir. I went to a small school with a combined grade school and high school students. Our school would put on plays and some were musicals. I auditioned for a singing part in one play when I was in grade school. I got the main character part and still remember one of the songs I had to sing! The whole community would come to see the plays in the high school auditorium.

I took piano lessons and played the trumpet in the junior high and high school bands. My cousin lent me her trumpet to play. I was actually pretty good at not taking lessons. We had some good band teachers who taught us in school. I was in the marching band and we competed in state music competitions. I remember going to CU Boulder for band day where bands from all over the state competed. It was a treat to participate. I tried to teach myself how to play the guitar. I was never very good at it. I took piano lessons but didn’t practice like I wish I would have.

Fast forward to getting married and having four children. My children played a variety of instruments. One or the other played piano, clarinet, flute, saxophone, bagpipes, and the fiddle. Our family loved music and went on family vacations to the Telluride Blue Grass Festival for many years.

Kaitlin Kenney, Christine King, Lisa Barrett

When our youngest, Kaitlin, was 6, I asked if she would like to learn how to play the fiddle. She said sure, so I started taking her to lessons. Her teacher taught Suzuki and Texas-style fiddling. She learned quickly and was naturally talented. I loved to hear her play. I took her to many group performances, fiddle contests – including Weiser, jam sessions, and fiddle workshops. I didn’t realize how much I absorbed from Kaitlin’s fiddling experiences. My love of fiddling became deep-seated. In high school, she took lessons from Katie Glassman who taught her Texas-style, jazz and improv. As life takes twists and turns, we lost Kaitlin in 2013 at 21 years of age. My heart was heavy when seeing Kaitlin’s fiddle in its case.

Katie encouraged me to take lessons and give her beloved fiddle some love. In 2018 I finally decided it was time. I did it with trepidation that I wouldn’t be able to play by ear. To my delight with Katie’s thoughtful teaching program she showed me I could do it, even at my age! I love that I can now play the fiddle! I look forward to learning new techniques to improve my playing and enjoy the challenge of learning new songs. The fiddle has become part of my musical soul.

I took Kaitlin to pick out her last fiddle from Lisa and Dick Barrett. Fiddles and fiddlers choose each other. I realize she picked this fiddle not just herself but also for me. Kaitlin’s fiddle no longer sits lonely in its case. I pick it up to practice every day and look forward to hearing the music it can play. It brings me great joy and Kaitlin is in my heart every time I pick up her fiddle to play.

—Linnea Kenney

Paul Pruett – Saltillo, Tennessee

Paul Pruett – Saltillo, Tennessee

I currently reside in the rural west Tennessee community that I grew up in. We raised cotton, hogs, and a large garden. We were poor people like most in the community. We had music and making music to fill the hours that chores and the cotton patch didn’t require. Yes, I know too much about hoeing and picking cotton by hand. No complaints though, it built a strong work ethic.

At 67 and now retired for seven years, you get plenty of time to reflect on things  (and music is one of those that has made my to-do list off and on), but a lot of years were absorbed working and rearing children.

To begin with, music was always a part of my Dad’s family even though neither of his parents played instruments or sang. Gone before my birth, it was said my grandfather Levi John Eli was a fiddler but he died before my arrival. My dad’s siblings, six in total, sang and or played. Family gatherings always included a few hours of music…singing, mandolin, and guitar but no fiddling. My dad had an old Harmony guitar that had given up the ghost but was still a little playable. It wasn’t beginner friendly and was falling apart. My sister, Nancy, was taking piano lessons at school from Ms. Kate, who was a rather large old maid who gave piano lessons for a $1.00 per month. Nancy stayed on the piano stool from the first grade through graduation. The piano was one of the household treasures as it had been purchased by my maternal grandfather for his wife in the early 1900s. He purchased it from New York and it made the trip to Saltillo Tennessee by river barge. It’s a beautiful old upright with walnut, and cherry woods and features a fourth pedal said to be a banjo/honky-tonk tone. I wanted to play but it wasn’t cool for boys to take piano lessons…only the girls and a few sissy boys took the lessons.

I got the bug for a guitar and my dad gave me the proceeds from selling one of our hogs which I fed before and after school. Loaded with $35 to spend, we ordered a Montgomery Ward Airline from the catalog and awaited its arrival. It took a month and came by rail freight from Chicago to our county seat, Lexington, TN. It was a lot of money to spend but far less than the $100 for a new Gibson J45 at Wright’s furniture store in Lexington. We were ecstatic to get the Monkey Ward special. It was like fretting a fence to quote “Doc Watson”, so my ever-handy Dad improved the action with some adjustments on the bridge and nut. My dad acquired an old Kalamazoo mandolin from one of my uncles who had quit playing. The mandolin had supposedly made a few trips to the Opry stage with the John D. Springer quartet back in the day. My dad was a good rhythm guitarist and had seconded many fiddlers at square dances as well as his brother who was a really good mandolin player. The high school years passed with my brother and I learned to play rhythm behind my dad’s mandolin playing. Sally Goodin, Ragtime Annie, Milk Cow Blues, Chicken Reel, Wednesday Night Waltz all still ring in my head (with my dad questioning why we couldn’t hear the chord changes). Finally, we learned to hum the tunes which opened the door to hearing the changes.

On to fiddling, our little town of 300 had a 1 through grade 12 school that I attended and graduated from with my fellow 22 classmates. An annual event and fundraiser for the school was the West Tennessee Fiddlers Contest. It ran for 50 years before ending in around 1999. In 1968, I attended my first contest and heard live fiddling for the first time. It lit a fire in my soul that has never died.     The judges required a playoff to determine the winner. Wayne Jerrolds, who eventually had a short stint with Bill Monroe, played Listen to the Mockingbird while his opponent a young man from Corinth, Mississippi played Blue Moon of Kentucky. I can still hear the soulful crying notes from Blue Moon of Kentucky and the shuffles from Listen to the Mockingbird. I was forever hooked to those sounds.

Our neighbor, Henry Bivens, a retired blacksmith, owned a fiddle and was a poor to fair player according to my Dad. I never heard him play. Henry routinely enjoyed adult beverages and dipped snuff with a sweet gum toothbrush. He and his wife Hattie sat on the front porch of their home dipping snuff and sometimes with their feet in a pan of water for cooling in the summer. They both passed away around 1969. My dad bought Henry’s fiddle for me when their possessions were auctioned.

Armed with mandolin tunes, we all attempted to play the fiddle with little success.    Lessons or money for lessons didn’t exist. The fiddle stayed in the dilapidated case but I counted it in my prized possessions. Soon it was off to college. The day before leaving home for college I got my most memorable lessons for life words from Dad. I had gotten loans and scholarships to pay the way but he told me the day before I left as we stood in the side yard looking at the fields, “don’t go off and act a fool or your ass will be back here in that g**dammed cotton patch”. Properly motivated, I graduated with honors holding a chemical engineering degree. After graduating I packed my fiddle, guitar, and two suitcases with the rest of my junk to begin work with Dow Chemical. Music for the most part was on hold except for a beer-loving band that I played in while with Dow. I soon began job-hopping and relocating to enhance my career.

In two of my 13 relocations, I got the opportunity for fiddle lessons but they were short-lived. The first in Huntington, West Virginia in 1977. The instructor quit after two lessons and the second came in Columbia TN circa 1982. He quit commuting from Nashville after four lessons. I did learn from the second teacher that the old fiddle was really not very playable…..Back in the case!

I continued guitar noodling off and on through the1970 to 2013 period. No serious pursuit with the guitar as chemical plant management and children took all my time. Upon retiring and acquiring an iPad I discovered YouTube. We had moved from Nashville and were living in our weekend getaway planning to build a home. I ran across Bryan Sutton playing Beaumont Rag and immediately discovered all of the music tutorials and aids on the internet. I bought a ton of books from Steve Kaufman’s parking lot picker series and practiced all my fingers would allow. I got to a reasonable intermediate level in two years and decided to attend the Kaufman flatpick camp. I got some great guitar tips and a few tunes but the highlight came when I attended a class offered to any and all attendees hosted by Barbara Lamb, who played a short stint with Asleep at the Wheel. The class was titled, “So You Always Wanted to Play the Fiddle”. I left the class knowing I wasn’t too old and that the better my instrument for learning, the easier it would be to get a good sound. I bought a violin and bow a few weeks later in July 2018.

After four torturous months of trying to play by ear and internet tutelage, I bought Brian Wicklund’s American Fiddle Method Book and started at the beginning. I couldn’t stand more than 30 minutes a day but I finally made progress and got comfortable holding the instrument and making recognizable tune noise. I acquired an online teacher and learned a good bit but she didn’t play the way tunes are in my head. She made beautiful music but her real forte was classical.

Along the way, I discovered Fiddle School and Katie Glassman playing the Eighth of January and must have watched that free video 200 times. There was the sound I wanted. I joined fiddle school and haven’t looked back. I try to practice 3 hours a day but seem to lose focus if I go too long and I’m scared of learning bad habits. I’ve set a goal to play pretty well by age 70 or quit. I don’t know if I would really quit but I’m presently loving the journey. It is such good medicine.

I enjoyed penning most of this but I got a little weepy thinking about my dad, sister, and brother, who all met the Cancer foe. The best of my memories with them were around music. The piano my sister played is still at home with my mother, Henry’s fiddle and the old mandolin are resting in my living room. My old Montgomery Ward guitar is sitting in an outbuilding on the farm…..maybe I’ll bring it home to rest too…..

–Paul Pruett

 

 

Camille Arnold-Mages – 16 Years Old – Boston, MA

Camille Arnold-Mages – 16 Years Old – Boston, MA

I started playing the violin with the Suzuki method when I was 6 years old. When I was 10, I had joined a local youth orchestra, but I was always interested in more kinds of music than classical. At a summer camp I learned about fiddling.  At about that age, I remember searching on the internet for violin contests and found a fiddle contest hosted by the National Western Stock Show. I was always a competitive kid, and a fiddle contest sounded amazing!

To prepare for the contest I asked my dad to find sheet music for fiddle tunes that I could easily learn in the month leading up to the contest. I competed in the Novice division where I played Cripple Creek and Wizard’s Walk by Jay Unger. To my great dismay I didn’t win. I stopped playing fiddle for a while. I had decided that if I couldn’t win right off the bat then what was the point?

Later that year at the same summer camp from the previous year, I met Katie Glassman. Katie got me hooked on the fiddle. She made it look so fun! Shortly after, I began taking private fiddle lessons with Katie. What an experience! Till then, I never realized how different Classical playing and fiddling were. I had thought that because classical was so much “harder” than any classical player could easily play the simple fiddle tunes. I was so very very wrong. I spent about a year with Katie in person where I worked on learning the “basics” of fiddling, the feel, and the bowing patterns. (I must admit I still am searching for the feel of fiddling.) 

When I was 11, with my family, I made my first trek up to Weiser for the National Oldtime Fiddlers Contest. I was fired up to compete in the Jr. Jr. division with other kids my age. I thought I was going to beat everyone. Once again that was not the case…. at all. I had never realized how competitive fiddling was, and really didn’t understand what it meant to be an “advanced player”, even after my many trial and errors.

That same summer my family moved to Pittsburgh. I continued taking lessons from Katie but online, through Skype. Skype brought a new sort of learning curve I had to overcome, there was no way for Katie to move my arms into correct positions, it was harder to show me how to make technical changes, and not to mention the shotty internet connection. Altogether there was something lost when doing online lessons. 

When I was about 13 I began to lose interest in fiddling. The contests in Pittsburgh were an entirely different genre than the Texas-style I was used to. They also lacked the sense of community I had found at Weiser. I struggled in lessons and I wouldn’t admit it at the time but I wasn’t working nearly as hard used to. I began to listen to my peers who told me that I should just quit because what was the point? This struck a certain bell with me and once again I began to think “What’s the point in trying if I’m not going to win?” I convinced myself that I now hated fiddle. 

The only thing that kept me playing was Weiser. When I was 15 I got an opportunity to travel to Europe with my Orchestra over going to Weiser. This allowed me to lose all (if any) focus I had on fiddle. 

Later that Summer my family once again picked up and moved to Boston. While we were trying to buy a house in Boston there were many conflicts and we ended up being homeless! Luckily our family friends offered us one of their cabins in Vermont. Even though I wasn’t excited about it at first, Boston has proved to have many opportunities. 

I continued to try to convince myself that I “hated” fiddle. I continued to not prepare for lessons. Thankfully things began to turn around. That Fall Katie came to visit us and gave me and my sisters a fiddle intensive. While she was here she would pull me aside from my sisters to talk with me. She encouraged me to continue playing and told me that she could tell that I was still in love with the fiddle. No matter how hard I tried, Katie had reconnected me with a part of myself I had shoved deep down. I began to pick my fiddle up a little more, began to play guitar, and listen to fiddle music. Though I did all this where my parents and sisters couldn’t see me. I didn’t want them to know that I had begun to reconnect with the music I’d worked so hard to distance myself from. 

That Winter I worked up the courage to ask my Dad to check out some books about the King of Western Swing Bob Wills. I read as much about him as I possibly could. He had me hooked, not only on him as a person but his music. Around the same time I got these books I began to surf the internet in search of fiddle videos. I found Lyle Dixson’s channel where he recorded every fiddle contest imaginable and posted it on YouTube. I would spend hours upon hours watching and researching fiddle. I was once again (whether I liked it or not) hooked on fiddle. 

That summer I, unfortunately, was unable to make it to Weiser again. This time for financial reasons and as far as my friends know I missed Weiser because I had rowing practice. Lucky for me, the contest was being streamed. I stayed up late every night to watch the Junior and Championship rounds. I admitted to myself for the first time in 3 years that I very much missed openly enjoying fiddle.

That summer things got tough, rowing was grueling, my favorite dog passed away, and I was in a sort of funk. All my time was spent at rowing. I woke up at 6 to get to practice and wasn’t home till after 5. When I got home I’d shower, eat, and go to bed. I was way too tired to practice. Luckily in August I finally got a break from rowing. I picked up my fiddle and began practicing again. This time I approached my practicing with the attitude of if I’m going to spend time doing something, I may as well do it the best I can. I took a deep dive into fiddle music. I spent hours listening to Terry, my favorite fiddler. I began to get tired of playing songs I had learned the previous spring and wanted to learn something new. I learned a few parts of Say Old Man off of a Terry recording. During my first fall semester lesson with Katie I played her the parts of Say Old Man I had learned. She seemed so happy that I had taken the initiative to learn something on my own. I’d never done that before. That got me even more hooked. From there I began to pick up speed with my learning. I was very hungry to learn more and to more importantly make up for all the lost time. 

I continue to read and watch fiddle videos. I sometimes sneak my laptop into my room at night to watch videos of Terry or other famous fiddlers. I am once again playing fiddle for the joy of playing!

 

Takin’ My Baby Along: Reflections on Music and My Life as a Fiddler

 

 

Sheet Music: Takin’ My Baby Along

Written by Katie Glassman, Edited by Adam Kulakow

Not long after I started playing in 1988, people called me a fiddler. And I liked that. In fact, it became the central part of my identity as I began traveling to fiddle contests around the country and sought out fiddle legends to learn from (many of the greats were still with us when I started). By the time I got to college, I felt ready to push further and explore the world of classical and jazz. Of course, a push like that entailed 4 hours of practice for each teacher in each class in each genre. I developed a routine: practice from 6 am – 10 am, go to classes all day, then it was back to the practice room from 10 pm – 2 am. The good news is that this actually worked. I improved. A lot. And what a rush that was: my biggest high came from musical progress, and I rode the practice train hard, even got addicted to compliments from my teachers (this was before the movie “Whiplash,” but yeah, I had one of those teachers – and he liked my work ethic). So sure, life was great, and giving up sleep gave me some extra time and so did skipping a meal or two. Why not? It was all about having time to practice. (Paying bills was another thing, as I found one day when my car got booted from unpaid parking tickets.) But practicing was my favorite thing to do and if that meant my car got a boot, well, so be it. And that was pretty much the story of my life from the time I picked up a fiddle until I was 22.

I graduated from the University of Colorado and put my fiddle in its case. If I could have locked that case up and thrown away the key, I probably would have. Instead, it went in the closet. That is, until I moved to Idaho, where I joined a band. As a fiddler? Not exactly. In fact, not at all. The fiddle stayed in its case and that was fine by me. I was now the electric guitar player in a Beach Boys cover band called The Wilson Project and I was also experiencing something I had forgotten about — and that was called having fun. Sadly, the money in Beach Boys cover music just wasn’t there in Boise in 2004. So, the fiddle came out of its case, and soon enough I was teaching 50 fiddle students a week. All the while, I told myself and everyone who’d listen that “I quit fiddle, it just doesn’t inspire me anymore.” And then one day a close college friend (Adam Ravelle) said that the world would end if I quit, and besides, he just couldn’t imagine it. When he happened to notice that I was playing my fiddle hours and hours every week teaching, he had the good sense to let me continue to think that I had “quit.” He knew that I was still “a fiddler,” but he also knew I was a bit burnt out from pushing so hard and so that whole musical identity thing needed a break for a while. I’d call myself a fiddler again when I was ready.

Teaching worked out. I bought a house in Boise and things were looking up. And then things got tragic: two previous tenants in my house died, and soon after that my neighbor got killed by a chainsaw in a lumber accident. Life was feeling very strange and sad. And just when I started thinking I really could use a change, I got one. I got invited to study jazz violin in France with my hero, a protégé of Stephane Grappelli named Didier Lockwood. Helpfully, my house had already doubled in value since I bought it. So within three weeks of that invitation, I got a home loan advance, rented my house, then put the rest of my life in storage and drove my cats to Denver where they could spend a year at my parents’ house. The night before I left, my dad asked if I could even string together a sentence in French. He knew I’d studied Spanish in school and pretty much blew that off to focus on music. Hoping I’d at least learn how to ask where a bathroom is, he gave me the Pimsler CDs and sure enough, I soon was able to say, “Ou est la toilette, s’il vous plait?” His bigger question was what was my plan once I got to France. Again,  he knew the answer. I had no plan. Which also meant I had no place to live and limited language prospects, despite the Pimsler CDs. So he got me a hotel in Paris for three days and pretty much prayed for my survival. Miraculously, that actually worked. I got a train ticket out of Paris and found a small apartment two blocks from Didier’s jazz school in the small town Dammarie-Les-Lys for one year. And over the course of that year, I learned French, I learned jazz violin, and I even learned how to become ok with the cheek to cheek kissing greetings twice a day all day with like 58 guys who were studying jazz too. Amid all that kissing, I almost didn’t notice the housing crisis of 2008 that put my house into foreclosure back in Boise. C’est la vie…

Forget the foreclosure crisis. My inspiration for the fiddle was back. All it took was a year with a jazz great, a lot of quality red wine and all that kissing (despite my germaphobia). It was time to get back to America, back to epic practice sessions, and back on stage. I decided to come home to Denver, rented a small house in a hip neighborhood and loved the vibe. But then the vibe changed. Neighbors on both sides of me died. Amid those two tragedies, I developed a 3-inch cyst on my right wrist. It hurt too much to play fiddle and doctors told me that I may not be able to play fiddle again. So, I took out my 1964 Gibson J-45 and started writing songs. People hear those songs today and think they’re happy tunes. Well, they’re not. They’re all sad. I wrote on my pedal organ too. Yes, those songs are also sad.

Fast forward two years and I recorded an all-originals album called “Snaphot,” which was indeed a snapshot of the life I just described above. Somehow that cyst had dissolved, and I was playing all the time. Only things were different now, I was playing with joy. Getting back in musical shape felt so good, singing felt so good, songwriting felt so good. All of it. And the whole journey took me back to where I started: the fiddle. I’m a singer, I’m a songwriter, I’m a teacher, I’m a guitar player, I’m a piano player… a musician. But really, I’m a fiddler. And that goes way back now.

Music has led my life to so many incredible people and places: it’s my identity, my passion and my connection to the world. But it’s also led me to a simple truth, if you play an instrument or sing, you’re a musician. You might be a great maestro in a world class symphony, or you might just be strumming a few chords in your living room. But if there’s music in you, then no matter what, it will always be there – and it will always be there for you. In these tough times, I hope that your music can lift you up and help you remember who you are. It does that for me every day.

Here’s a song I wrote in 2009 about my fiddle called Takin’ My Baby Along. I’ve included the MP3 and the chart, in case you’d like to learn it. The young Nashville fiddle star, Billy Contreras played twin fiddles with me on this one.

Origins of the Melody

Origins of the Melody

Over the next three weeks, I’m going to explore the fascinating topic of fiddle tune variations, of course in the context of Texas-style fiddling. The three topics I’ll cover are: Origins of the Melody, How to Learn Variations, and How to Build Variations. So, keep following my blog posts here….

As cool as variations are, I personally do not look at variations as superior to the traditional melody. In fact, as much as I love playing variations, there are hundreds of tunes that I choose not to vary at all. And there are lots of recordings that have zero variations and totally rock. Here are a few of my favorites: The Tommy Jackson Compendium Volume 1, 2, & 3 (with Red Recktor on mandolin), Kenny Baker’s Master Fiddler, Georgia Slim’s Raw Fiddle, Eck Robertson’s Old Time Texas Fiddler: Vintage Recordings 1922-29. (Full disclosure, Eck does play in those recordings an incredible “Sally Goodin” with several seminal variations that I’ll talk about in future blogs.)

Now, let’s look at the origins of the melody of a fiddle tune. The evolution of a fiddle tune is akin to playing telephone. As the tune gets passed down by ear from generation to generation and from fiddler to fiddler, little changes naturally occur. Variations are then added, and the tune grows over time. The melody of any fiddle tune can also vary from fiddler to fiddler, especially as certain variations become commonplace enough that they get considered to be part of the tune. Still, because respect for the melody of a fiddle tune is a central aspect of an unspoken code among fiddlers, even the oldest melodies remain recognizable.

If you take one part of a fiddle tune, you can break it down and find the “points of the part.” These points make up the undeniably important notes (and rhythms) in the melody that give a tune its musical skeleton, or you might even say, its musical identity. This can include something as small as a single note, a common phrase, or a signature accent on a specific note. These points remain in their traditional places even as variations are built around them. And the presence of these points keep the tune recognizable.

When I first sit down to learn a breakdown, my starting point is always to figure out where the points of the part are. To find the true melody, I will search back as far as I can in recorded history for the oldest recording I can find. Then, getting as close as possible to the original tune, I begin to see its evolution: how variations gradually became accepted as parts and by looking at these now integrated variations, I begin to decipher where the actual points of the parts are. All tunes have their history, their lineage. It’s our work to dig into that and appreciate how they come to us in the present day. Now, this process of discovery is not always as black and white as I just described it, but all in all, I find the exploration worth the blood, sweat and tears. And it is always educational. You might notice how fiddlers who do this work wind up internalizing the melody so deeply that they venture into variations only after a long period of integrating the concept of the tune into their musical being.

After you’ve learned the melody, sought out the oldest documented version you can find, and deciphered all the points of the part, then you might well have some clarity on how variations developed over time. And once you do, you also might well be ready to learn them from a deeper place than just reading notes on a score. I know this can feel a little heady when all you want to do is learn some fun variations, but bear with me here, I promise it’s worth the effort. Why not start out by creating a playlist with all of your favorite fiddlers playing the tune that you’d like to have a variation for. Because therein lie the keys to the kingdom. All you have to do is take the time to listen – to really listen – and lo and behold, you’ll find yourself developing an instinct for not only how to put variations together but also to create them yourself! I don’t need to tell you how thrilling that can be, how rich it is to go that deep into the music you love. Stay tuned for next week’s blog where I’ll talk about How to Learn Variations.

Written by Katie Glassman with Adam Kulakow

 

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