by Celeste Johnson
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing fiddler Jesse Quintana since he was just four years old. From his earliest days as a fiddle player, Jesse continually amazed and inspired the fiddle community around him. His musicianship developed at a remarkable pace, driven by his innate talent and unwavering dedication to improvement.
Even at a young age, Jesse was a formidable fiddler who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with other musicians beyond his years. Over the nearly ten years I’ve had the privilege of teaching him, I’ve consistently marveled at his commitment and passion for the fiddle. Jesse is a torchbearer for the future of fiddling, and I am confident that he will carry this cherished tradition forward with the respect it deserves.
This year, Jesse achieved a remarkable feat: he won the Junior division at the National Old Time Fiddle Championships in Weiser, ID for the third consecutive year. It’s an extraordinary accomplishment that speaks to his incredible talent and dedication. Recently, Jesse graciously shared about his lifelong fiddling journey with us, reflecting on what this latest national championship victory means to him, the pivotal role of guitar accompaniment in his musical journey, his practice strategies, and more.
Read on to get to know fiddler Jesse Quintana!
How long have you been playing and what got you started?
I started playing the fiddle when I was 2 years old. My grandma used to lay out all the instruments that we had in the house and for some reason, I would always go back to the fiddle. So, for my 2nd birthday, my mom, dad, and grandma bought me my first fiddle, a 1/32 size. My grandma was my first fiddle teacher and also my first inspiration. She, along with my parents and many others, have helped me to take off with fiddling as my life passion.
When did you play in your first fiddle contest and what was it like?
My first fiddle contest was the 2013 Colorado State Fiddle Contest. I don’t remember much from that contest because I was only 4 years old at the time, but I do remember placing 4th in the small fry division.
What do you value about fiddle contests?
Something that sets fiddle contests apart from so many other things is that it brings together the fiddle community to be a part of the amazing music that we share. No matter where it’s being played, whether on the stage, or at a jam session, the music is enjoyed by listeners and players alike. That’s what makes fiddle music so important.
In addition to competing, what other musical endeavors are you involved in?
Along with fiddle music, I’m also involved in swing, jazz, classic rock, and guitar accompaniment.
Tell us about the process of learning guitar accompaniment and why that’s important to you.
Guitar accompaniment is a huge part of fiddle music because it gives the music structure and rhythm. When I first started playing guitar, it felt intimidating because I was so new to it, but it didn’t take long for me to learn the basics and find joy in it. I believe it is very important for every fiddler to know how to play the guitar. It really allows you to fully involve yourself with the genre.
How do you stay calm and relaxed on stage?
I usually feel pretty calm while performing because I am able to keep my focus on the music that I am playing. When the first note is drawn out of the fiddle, my mind isn’t anywhere else but the music.
Tell us about your experience this year at the National Old Time Fiddlers’ Contest—what were the best parts of Weiser week this year (and yes, tell us about your big win too)?
This year’s National Old Time Fiddlers’ Contest was one of the most exciting contests I’ve ever been to. There was so much great competition this year along with fun jam sessions that brought the community together. This was also my 3rd consecutive win in the Junior division which is such a big accomplishment for me, meaning that next year, I will have to compete in the open division!
What’s your practice routine like?
I don’t really have a set practice routine but most days, I warm up with some quick scales, thirds, or arpeggios, then I dive into some fiddle tunes. While practicing my tunes, my main focuses are improving technique and style. Some days, I learn a new tune and other days I focus more on guitar accompaniment. It really just depends on what I feel like doing that day and that is what makes practicing so fun, instead of feeling like work.
How do you prioritize music with a really busy schedule?
It’s hard sometimes to prioritize music over everything else in my busy schedule but as long as I stay focused to get things done during the day, I have enough time in the evening to practice. I also love listening to fiddle music while doing other things which makes a huge difference in my playing.