The Northern Roots Festival is a one-day hometown event in Brattleboro, Vermont every January. Local traditional musicians and some from out of town gather for performances, workshops and sessions, with a sold-out evening concert. It’s produced by the Brattleboro Music Center, and it’s a great favorite with the community.
This year I hosted “Matching Fiddles with Players,” a workshop (or “playshop,” according to one of the fiddlers) session with five wonderful fiddlers: Becky Tracy (Brattleboro), Armand Aromin (Providence, RI), Andrea Larson (Wilton, NH) lydia ievins (Montague, MA) and Mary Lea (Brattleboro). Each played their own fiddle, then played the same tune on one of mine, talking about what they like about the fiddle they play, why they chose it – if they did – what sounded and felt different on the Cox fiddle.
Becky plays a fiddle she’s had since she was young; Armand is a violin maker himself, and plays on an oversized Maggini model of his own making; Andrea plays on my #686 Gaspar da Salò violin, lydia plays a 5-string fiddle she bought in Sweden, and Mary Lea is on her third Robert Childs fiddle, having traded up over the decades.
Each fiddler’s style was the major factor but the audience could plainly hear that the instruments sounded different from each other, and different when played by each individual.
Fiddlers or Violinists?
My introduction to the violin was through country dance music. Though I had appreciated classical orchestral sound and loved my “Music for Frustrated Conductors” LP that came with a baton and basic conducting instructions as a kid, I never played a violin till I was 16 and sitting in as a banjo and flute player with Dudley Laufman. My focus as a musician drifted ever more to classical with a few minor detours into jazz and South Indian music, and my violin work became almost exclusively focused on the classical player.
It is wonderful to feel the world coming around with more roots music in my clientele. The strength of the traditional music community is supporting musicians, both professional and amateur, whose music makes very good use of the qualities I have learned to build into my violins. Several of the players spotlighted on my website are traditional musicians.
The playing session at Northern Roots was a clear demonstration to me that the choice of violin can make a huge difference in the expressive quality, and the success of a performing fiddler. There is nothing I knowingly do different in making violins for classical or traditional use. I am thrilled to see the percentage of sales to traditional players increase, and view this as evidence of the well balanced success of my work.