Fiddling’s future is in good hands
June 11, 2005
Pee Wee fiddler Lindsey Ferguson, 4, of Redding, Calif., doesn’t know it, but she’s about to make history.
As she climbs the steps onto the converted semi-trailer stage and waits by the microphone, green contestant ribbon pinned to her overalls, she is about to become the first fiddler to compete in a Carson City contest in more than 20 years.
In her left hand, she carefully holds her one-16th-sized instrument by the neck. She checks out the scenery behind her – a pair of cartoonish cacti and a wolf howling to a yellow saucer moon – before bowing her fiddle. Her guitar-playing accompanist crouches beside her and the pair rip into the old-time hoedown, “Arkansas Traveler.”
The sound of the fiddle is pensive and sweet, a little scratchy and a little soulful, filled with both sawdust and suntan lotion.
“Every fiddler develops their own style at an early age,” said Randy Pollard of Minden, current state champion and organizer of the Carson City Rendezvous’ Old-time Fiddle Contest on Saturday.
“It’s a function of their personality.”
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“And every region has its own predominant style, too,” he said. “There’s Texas fiddling, Cajun fiddling down in New Orleans and Canadian-style fiddling up in the Pacific Northwest … “
And unlike its more uptight cousin, the violin, fiddle players are actually encouraged to get loose with their instruments and most learn to play by ear as opposed to by sight.
“The two instruments actually complement each other,” said Pollard, who believes that music education is one of the most important subjects a child can be taught.
“A violin and fiddle are tuned exactly the same,” said contest emcee Tex Ash. “The only difference is you carry a violin in a case and a fiddle in a gunny sack,” he laughed.
“The fiddle played an important role in the lives of the pioneers,” said Pollard. “Every night they would sit around by the fire and dance.”
Despite the down-home lemonade-stand friendliness of a fiddling contest, the judges seem to take things rather seriously. The five of them are literally sequestered in a soundproof trailer where they listen to the contest through an audio feed. They can only hear the fiddler’s contest number and the songs they are going to do.
“They go out of their way to be fair,” says Pollard. “That way, it’s all about the music and nobody wins because maybe they look really cute up on stage or something.”
That and the fact that there’s more than $5,000 in prize money going out to the top five fiddlers competing in six different categories: Pee Wee (8 and under); Jr. Jr. (9-12); Junior (13-17); Adult (18-54); Senior (55 and over); and the Open division.
Pollard’s daughter, Christina, and nephew Ryan both competed in the Pee Wee division.
For Christina, who’s been playing for only 3 months, it was her first contest. She admitted to being a little nervous, but was excited that she got to play her favorite song, “Edelweiss.”
“They’re the next generation,” said Pollard, hugging his daughter proudly. “I’d say fiddling is in good hands.”
n Contact reporter Peter Thompson at email@example.com or 881-1215.