I’ve played the violin since early childhood, crossing over to fiddling in 1971. Before long, other violinists began asking for help and I ran out of answers. Fifty years later, I’m still chasing tunes and I hope I never run out of questions!
For technical vetting, I studied with great violinists like the late Mary Lou Speaker, principal second violinist for the Boston Symphony Mary Lou helped me become a better player and she enjoyed the bouncy Québecois rhythms I brought to our lessons. We had a lot of fun and she helped me tame that bounce! Most of what I know about playing efficiently, with good tone and right-hand control, comes from her and from studying and applying Alexander Technique methods. That means I can quickly spot a student’s current learning point and suggest techniques and practice routines to increase skills.
I’ve also tried to stand next to the most rhythmically gifted musician in the room for the past 50 years, even if that meant hiring them to play with me! Contradance rhythm masters like Bob McQuillen, Tony Parkes, Russ Barenberg, Molly Mason, Kate Barnes, Stuart Kenney, Selma Kaplan, Denis Frechette, Max Cohen, Liza Constable and a slew of others inspired me to play the grooves, not just the notes. Fiddlers like Ruth Dornfeld, George Wilson, Gerry Robichaud, Louis Beaudoin, Seamus Connolly, Joe Cormier, Graham Townsend, André Brunet, Pascal Gemme, Alan Jabbour, Allan Block and so many others gave me permission and roadmaps for subdividing and syncopating rhythm. Along the way I’ve learned that fiddlers are actually drummers with only one stick!
I documented what I learned from them – music and variations – in transcriptions so I could remember, analyze, and pass on what I was learning. My Fiddling Demystified for Strings details this method.
I retired in 2020 as a fiddle instructor at Smith and Amherst Colleges. Since then, I teach a weekly Fiddling Demystified class online for the Philadelphia Folk School. We now have more than 75 hours archived. I look forward to returning post-pandemic to live teaching and performing with my guitarist and co-conspirator Max Cohen.