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The Fiddle Movement
By Rhiannon Schmitt

Violin was not the instrument of choice when I was a child.

Swing and Jazz violin had expired, country fiddle was twangy, and classical violin was viewed as stuffy. According to popular belief of my classmates, violinists were cloistered away in dusty classical conservatories and doomed to a life of boring music written by “old dead guys with wigs.” Kids who played violin were pitied for an apparent lack of “cool factor” in MTV’s “totally awesome” 1980’s Generation X culture.

With nothing to lose but friends, I joined forces with all the other orchestral revolutionaries of the time and enrolled in “Beginner Orchestra” in middle school. Though our beginnings were humble, young violinists would create a new role for violin in popular music and have essentially brought violin back from the grave!

How did we do that? We practiced and practiced. And we added something new to the mix.

In years past young musicians have taken music to new levels of creativity and popularity. Elvis’ Gospel roots helped him bring 12-bar-blues to 1950’s teen culture, soon to become to most-known performer of all time. The Beatles made Liverpool skiffle rock a template for some of the best music of the century. Such young innovators have always been in the forefront of new genres.

In the early 90s Celtic music was coming into the scene and we took an instant liking to it. It was new and fresh, yet it was as old as our heritage. Having been trained to play and read violin music, a simple Irish jig was a walk in the park. However, we added something to Celtic music that wasn’t as present before: Attitude.

Irish fiddle is traditionally played softly, sweetly and lyrically. The bow gently lilts across the strings, never creating the “grind” new players bring out. Our new technique is raw and assertive and so much fun to play!

Donning a kilt and old combat boots, Nova Scotian fiddler Ashley MacIsaac stomps and thrashes as he plays. He said, “When I go out and do my live show I present the image of angry young man… It's angst or punk and that's what the Celts were, punks.”

Other young Canadian fiddlers have been equally successful in the aggressive new Celtic movement. Richard Wood’s swift step-dancing and fiddling keeps the crowds at their target heart level. Natalie MacMaster’s feminine charm mixed with intense and gritty fiddle solos has helped her earn a gold record and several music awards. Bands like “Leahy” and “Barrage” put on shows that sell out in hours.

Ten years ago our fiddle generation was still in school, playing violin and searching for an identity. We took the opportunity to personalize a timeless style of music and brought the violin back into popular culture. In fact, violin is the most demanded instrument lately, especially among teens.

Just imagine a world where peer pressure means convincing your friends to practice violin? As a violin teacher I’d sure love to see that.

**Rhiannon Schmitt (nee Nachbaur) is a professional violinist and music teacher who has enjoyed creative writing for years.

Rhiannon, age 29, has worn the hats of events promoter, classical music radio host and school orchestra music arranger in rural British Columbia, Canada.

Her business, Fiddleheads Violin School & Shop, has won several distinguished young entrepreneur business awards for her comittment to excellence. Her shop offers beginner to professional level instruments, accessories and supplies. http://www.fiddleheads.ca provides a rich resource of information on her school, violin, products for sale and her many writings.

Rhiannon is Founding President of the Shuswap Violin Society http://www.violinsociety.ca She dedicates much of her time to community music projects and helping young musicians in financial need.

Rhiannon currently writes columns for two Canadian publications and has been featured in Australia's "Music Teacher Magazine." Writing allows her to be a creative "smart-ass" and to teach people that the world of music is as fun as you spin it to be!

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