Falling in Love Again: Being Reunited with my Violin

fiddle7I have not been playing one of my violins for over year now.  This violin is the one that my parents bought for me when I was in university and is the instrument that I have used for most of my classical performances ever since.  Over a year ago, I noticed that the top was coming apart from the back near the neck of the violin.  I was worried about how much work was going to be needed to repair it as the front was actually bowing away from the violin.  I put off getting the repairs done because I did not want to deal with it.

I studied music at McGill University, and during my second year, decided that it was time to upgrade my violin.  My parents and I went to a luthier to check out some violins, with the plan just to look and not to buy anything right away.  This plan did not pan out, and I walked out with a new to me violin, a lovely Tyrolean violin made in the early 1800s.  I had fallen in love.

My violin and I were together for about 14 years without any issues.  My violin came apart near the neck, and I was worried about how much work might need to be done.  Usually, splitting seams are not all that big a deal and can be fixed relatively easily by a luthier.  I was worried as the front of my violin was actually bowing out away from the ribs.  I stopped playing the instrument because I was worried that continued contact with my hands would cause more damage.

Finally, shortly after Christmas 2012 I was able to send my violin to Montreal with friends to have it repaired.  The luthier called me to tell me that the repairs would not be all that major, and would only cost me a small amount.  It was a huge relief.

I got my violin back on February 19th, 2013, I was in the middle of a concert series with Symphony NB, so did not go back to playing my violin immediately.  I have since started playing this specific instrument again.  My violin did not sound the way I remembered, which was a little disappointing, but I had known that this situation might occur.   It had not been played in over a year, and also had been repaired.  Since then, I have been playing my violin as much as possible to try to get in touch with it again.

My violin and I have been getting along quite well, it is opening up and sounding warmer as time goes on.  As the sound has been improving, I have started remembering why I chose this violin over 15 years ago.  I am in the process of falling in love again with my violin!


Am I Normal? The Question all Fiddle Students Ask

small__3534516458Recently I have been asked the same question several times.  “Do others of your students have this same problem?”  “Is my child learning at a normal speed?”  This is fascinating!  These are students of all ages, so this seems that we don’t grow out of this concern as we grow older.

Many times I have taught students who struggle in their first year of lessons, but who flourish later on.   I have been running a string program at an elementary school for the past three years.  It is great to see that some of the kids who were having difficulty in the first year are now some of the stronger students.  It is great to see their confidence growing as time has gone on.

I try in my lessons to encourage students to improve without worrying about where they are compared to others.  In the end it does not matter whether or not other students have the same problems.  What matters is where you have are having difficulty and how we can fix it!  You need to keep improving and moving forward.

I am not immune to this issue myself and am always comparing myself to other violinists, fiddlers and professional musicians.  At times I feel like my career is moving very slowly compared to some other people.  In the end, I always find that it is best for me to travel at my own speed.  When I think of all that I have accomplished, my career is moving along quite well.

My hope for all us (me included) is that we can concentrate on ourselves, and continue learning and improving.

A Violinist’s Experience Playing in a Chamber Orchestra

SINFONIA_LogoK+PMSMet117I play many forms of music with many different groups.  This past weekend I performed as part of the Atlantic Sinfonia, a professional chamber orchestra based in Fredericton, NB.  I got thinking about the rewards and challenges of playing with such a group and thought I would share them with you.

Formed in 2004, the Atlantic Sinfonia is a group of professional musicians from New Brunswick.  The ensemble alternates between concerts featuring a string ensemble, usually formed of about 13 members, and concerts featuring a wind ensemble.  As could be guessed, I am involved in the concerts that feature strings.

This group performs in an 18th century style, standing up instead of sitting down.  I actually prefer standing to play the violin as there is more freedom of movement.  Also, if you who have played your violin sitting down, you will know that you legs are constantly in the way!  Standing up eliminates this problem.

The big challenge of playing in such a group is that we don’t have a conductor.  This means that we are playing more as a chamber group than as an orchestra.  We have to be really in touch with the other players to stay together.  During rehearsals we have to decide who is going to cue each beginning in the music.  For the most part, it is our concertmaster, so he is not only playing his own part, but cueing the rest of us.

We also spend time in rehearsal making sure that we are all on the same page as far as expression, dynamics and bowings.  Without a conductor, everyone is more a part of the decisions about expression in the music.  It is a more democratic setting than working with a conductor.

As far as rewards, I love being in a small group and feeling like I am really important.  I know that all the players in a symphony are important, but when you are one of 10-12 second violins, you don’t always feel that way.  In the Atlantic Sinfonia, there were only four second violins.  Playing in a chamber orchestra you definitely feel like you are making a difference!

Please leave a comment if you have any experiences playing in a group that you would like to share!


2013, Here I Come: This Fiddler’s Goals for the New Year

small__8318609968I know I have said this before, but I love this time of year!  It is a new start!  A do-over.  Time to look at where you have been and decide where you are going!  Here is what 2013 looks like:

Goal #1:  Improve my health (does this sound familiar?)

This is an ongoing goal that I will have for the rest of my life!  I have come so far in the last three years and want to continue!  I don’t have a set goal weight in mind, but am just following this journey until it seems right to stop.

Goal #2:  Work on getting some of my music placed in movies/TV

Last year I took a course on music licensing, which is the term for getting your music placed in movies and on TV.  I did not have much time to spend on the course, so this year I will be taking more time to focus on it.

Goal #3:  Publish a fiddle tune book

I have been writing tunes for quite a while and now am in the process of entering them into Finale.  I am going to be compiling them along with some traditional favourites.  My goal is to have this done by the summer.

Goal #4:  Record CD number 4

I have some ideas for several CDs, but my aim is to get one done this year.  I believe it is going to be a Christmas CD.  We shall see…

Goal #5:  RCM Grade 6 cello exam

Last year I did my first paid gig on the cello.  I need something new to focus on so I will continue to work on the instrument, so I have decided that I would like to do my grade 6 exam with the Royal Conservatory of Music.  I need the pressure to excel!

Goal #6:  Read two books a month

A friend and I have been talking about how much time we spend on-line playing around on Facebook and other such sites.  I used to read a lot, and have decided to return to this excellent pastime.

What goals do you have for this year?

photo credit: Captain Kimo via photopin cc

2012 in Review: A Year in the Life of a Fiddler

ImageIt’s hard to believe that another year has passed, and what a year it has been!

The highlight for me this year was being recognized as Classical Artist of the Year by Music NB.  I was shocked that I won the award, but delighted at the same time!  I figured this would be a good time to look back at my goals for the year and let you know how I did…

Goal #1:  Improving my health.  This goal is going really well!  I have become completely obsessed with food, and have been spending more time in the kitchen, and a lot more time chopping veggies!  I have lost 20lbs this year, which brings me to a total loss of 60lbs over the past 3 years.  Honestly, those weren’t the numbers I was hoping for, but I will take them!  I am really proud of myself for maintaining and continuing to loose weight over 3 years.

Goal #2:  Perform the cello in public.  I have now done my first professional gig on the cello.  I played solo cello for a wedding in October.  I was absolutely terrified, but it was a great experience, and now the next time won’t be so scary!

Goal #3:  Give back to my community more.  I still feel the need to work on this more.  I have been taking some of my groups around to perform in hospitals and retirement homes on a volunteer basis, but will be looking for more ideas for 2013.

Goal #4:  Be more proactive in my business.  Things are going really well with my business.  I have redesigned my website, gotten my in-box under control, blogged twice a month, sent out newsletters twice a month, been more active on facebook and twitter, have joined a couple of on-line fiddle forums, have been updating my records every month, and in general, just feel like I am more organized than ever before.  I still have days when I feel completely overwhelmed and that I will never get everything done, but in general I am please with how things are going!

Goal #5:  Record and release a CD of Christmas music.  This project has been tabled for right now as I don’t think it should be my focus at this time.  Perhaps you will see this goal pop up again next year!

Goal #6:  Start a series on intimate concerts in the style of house concerts.  Success!  I held a total of 6 concerts in my studio this year.  I went through a little period of doubt in the summer and was considering tabling the whole plan, but got back into it and had two great concerts in the fall.  I will definitely be continuing with this next year.

Now it is time to look ahead to the  New Year and decide where to go next!


CDs of 2012

Now that we are into December and nearing the end of the year, many publications are coming up with lists of “The Best of 2012.”  I am going to join in with my own list of CDs.  These are all excellent CDs that I am come in contact with through the year, some from groups that I had heard before, and some from groups that were new to me.  Some CDs were released in past years and some were just released this year.  I hope you have a chance to check out the music from some of these groups.

654367029985_cover.170x170-75 1.  Sprag Session – Sprag Session formerly known as the Colin Grant Band

This is a great band out of Cape Breton with front man and fiddler Colin Grant.  I first heard them at the EMCAs in Charlottetown in 2011 and again at the NB Highland Games in Fredericton that same year, where they were a huge hit.  This is their first CD as a band.  This is a great CD.  Be sure to check these guys out live if you ever have the chance as they are even better in person!


1-panel-outside-test2.     Ten Strings and a Goat Skin – Tri

This trio of young men from PEI mix traditional fiddle, guitar, bodhran and song with original songs and tunes.  I heard them first at the ECMAs in Moncton this year.  They too were a huge hit at the NB Highland Games in Fredericton this year.  They have grown beyond their debut CD and I believe are in the process of recording a second CD.  Keep your eyes and ears open for these young men!


CDCU04-150x150-23.  Rubicon – Live in P Major and Mary Mac

This band from Ireland has just released their third CD Mary Mac. I have not heard it yet, but I know their second album Live in P Major is excellent.  Francine has a wonderful voice combined with the fabulous fiddle of Dolcie, the great guitar of Ciaran and the amazing accordion/midi of Haensel.  This group performed at the NB Highland Games in 2012 to great acclaim.  Everyone fell in love with the band.


image_3346058.JPG4.  Mason’s Tender – Mason’s Tender

Fronted by Bryon Chase, this band has become a staple at festivals and pubs around NB such at the Miramichi Irish Festival , NB Highland Games, O’Donaghue’s Pub (Miramichi, NB), and the Old Triangle Pub (Moncton, NB).  This is their debut CD as a band and has a strong Celtic/country feel to it.


5.  Stacey Read – Not Forgotten

Stacey has been one of my favourite fiddlers since I first hear her perform with the band Banshee many years ago.  We have since worked together on several occasions and I continue to love her Old Tyme style of fiddling.   Stacey currently plays fiddle with Mason’s Tender.

If you have any suggestions for music well worth listening to, please let me know by replying below!

Searching for a violist

Last year I had a fabulous string quartet.  The four of us played well together, we were starting to get a nice blended sound, and we enjoyed spending time together.  Sadly, my violist moved away, leaving me needed a four member to the quartet, and so the search began.

This is a challenge that occurs with all groups at some point!  A friend of mine recently was looking for a bass player for her rock band so we were going through the process of looking for a new musician at the same time.

I have to admit that as I get older, what I look for in a musician has changed!  Through the years I have played in many musical groups, with a wide range of people with varying personalities and skill levels.  I have played with fabulous musicians who were a real pain to work with, and I have played with less skilled musicians who were lovely!

So, what do I look for now?  The best of all worlds would be a great person that you like to spend time with who is an excellent musician.  These people do exist!  However, if I can’t find that person, here is what I look for in order of importance:

  1. Personality – Let’s face it.  You are going to spend hours of rehearsal with this person as well as hours in the car driving to gigs.  You really want to be able to enjoy all of that time!  The time you are on stage is only a brief portion of all the time you spend together!
  2. Reliability – I really want to know that my musicians are going to show up for rehearsal and most importantly for gigs!  I want to know that they will be there on time with everything that they need.
  3. Being a Team Player – I like working with people who are willing to give their opinions and will to take criticism.  I want the whole group to sound the best it can, so anyone who wants to showboat is not welcome!
  4. Musical ability – Yes…  This one is number four.  I used to put a lot more importance on it, but I have played with musicians who have improved drastically over the time we worked together.  Weak skills can be improved upon with work and time.

So, I am sure that you all want to know…  I found a fourth member for my quartet and my friend found a bass player for her band.  We both feel really good about our choices!  I hope that you all have as much luck finding musicians to play in your groups!

photo credit: Daveybot via photopin cc