Monday, August 31, 2009

Twin fiddles at the fair

by Kelly Jo McDonnell
Contributing Writer
Thursday, August 27, 2009 4:32 PM CDT
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STILLWATER — When you ask 11-year-old boys what their hobbies are, typically the answer revolves around video games or hanging out with friends.

It’s the same for 11-year-old twins Soren and Skyler Schwendeman of Stillwater, except they add one unusual aspect to the list: they’re close to being musical prodigies. The outstanding fiddle and violin players have competed at the Minnesota State Fair and other contests since they were past the toddling age.

“They almost can’t stop making music … or noise,” laughed their mother, Jill Schwendeman. “They always did walk around humming music. It’s fascinating how they sprout music ... it just comes out their ears.”

For now, they’re gearing up to compete in their age bracket in this year’s Minnesota State Fair Fiddle Contest on Aug. 29 and 30 on the Heritage Square Stage (times are from 2 to 4 p.m. each day). Their enthusiasm for the fair and the contest, which they’ve competed in for the past four or five years, is obvious.

“It’s not as much competing, as getting up there and performing for a ton of people,” said Soren. “It’s fun to be up there.”

Jill said there are wonderful contestants at the competition. “It’s a friendly, supportive community, and we hang out in this little area of the fair, and the kids are running around within 30 feet of each other,” she said. “It doesn’t seem to be real cutthroat.”

Jill remembers when Skyler was 5 and so small he had to lean way up to the microphone.

“I have to say, we’ve only been good for two to three years,” said Soren. “Last year I got fourth place …we haven’t won.”

The boys, who will be in the sixth grade this fall at St. Croix Preparatory Academy in Stillwater, have also performed at countless county and state fairs, as well as gigs at town halls, churches and weddings.

A little history

Asked how they got interested in fiddle music, the twins answer almost in unison.

“Well, me and my brother were driving in the car and mom asked, ‘Hey, do you want to get a violin?’” recalled Skyler. “Me and my brother started jumping up and down.” At the time, the boys weren’t even 5.

The classical violin lessons began, and the boys have never looked back.

Jill said she and her husband, Tiger, thought it was important to stress to their sons that they should “stick with it” for five years and see what happens. “Tiger and I didn’t want them starting and stopping things,” said Jill. “We knew this would give them good grounding.”

She said her own family background has been rooted in music.

“My brother played in a symphony, and my sister was a music therapist,” she said. “I taught K-music, children’s music and piano.”

One of her favorite stories: when the twins were around 6 or 7, they built a lemonade stand outside the house, and if folks bought a glass of lemonade they would play a tune for them on fiddles. “That was fun,” she laughed. “It drew a crowd. Sometimes they put on a CD and played to it outside.”

Both boys said they like all types of music. “Our friends think we’re the musical ones on the block,” said Soren. “They’re into the new hip hop and rapping stuff, and we like that too, but we do classical to heavy metal and rock and any new stuff ... (friends) don’t like the fiddle as much.”

They stress that they do enjoy other things. “I like to read a lot, and be with friends,” said Skyler. “I always like medieval fantasy computer games, too.” Soren said he likes to “play guitar and drums “like all day, sometimes. I like to e-mail chat, too”.

Over summer break, the boys practice once a week and take part in up to three summer music camps each. During the school year, practice is once a day. The musicians have a full-time teacher in Brian Wicklund, a well-known fiddle performer and author on American Fiddle Method.

“Both boys are super musical,” said Wicklund. “They have a spirit of play when they make music. It seems really natural for them.”

He remembered when Soren started playing guitar on his own. “The first time he brought his guitar to play an original composition for me, I was really blown away,” said Wicklund. “The kids have worked up a number of tunes and songs on their own and are really self-motivated.”

The boys talk excitedly when asked about their favorite pieces of music. “Well, I like a piece called ‘Stinky’s Blues’ … it’s actually by Brian, and we manipulated it,” said Skyler. “I actually play it in the contest. I just think it’s fun to play and nice to listen to.”

Soren said he also likes “Orange Blossom Special.” But Jill said State Fair officials won’t let contestants play it at the fiddle contest because it’s “too flashy and weird.”

Bigger venues?

While Jill loves “Prairie Home Companion,” and would like to someday see her boys at that venue, Skyler sees himself playing at Orchestra Hall. Soren said he simply enjoys fair grandstands.

Once another Minnesota State Fair contest is under their belts, what’s next for the Schwendeman twins?

“It’d be cool to have a music career,” said Soren. “I don’t know how easy that would be, shows and stuff, but I’d like to go to Juilliard (School of Music). That would be awesome.”

His brother, Skyler’s plans are slightly different: “I’ve always wanted a career with animals or technology, but I haven’t really been able to decide on a career. Designing computer games, that’s my goal. I think I’ll have something to do with music, but not as my full-time job or anything.”

Samantha Depatie opens school of fiddle & stepdance

By Robert Palangio
Sunday, August 30, 2009
For the nearly 14 years, Chad's School of Fiddle and Stepdance has brought a great Canadian tradition to North Bay and area and has contributed to many local events and charities. Now, Samantha Depatie, a former student of Chad's, is opening a school of her own as Chad makes a permanent move to Ottawa. The new school is called Samantha's Fiddle and Stepdance School snd also has a new location: 141-D Golf Club Road which is across from St. Mary's Cemetery.

Samantha was a student of Chad's for 11 years, worked first as an instructor and then managed the school for Chad when he began to make the transition towards Ottawa. Samantha is very excited to continue the great tradition of fiddling and stepdancing in North Bay and continues to teach the original students from Chad's.

Fiddle and stepdance has been in this area long before Chad's or Samantha's schools ever opened. With the Scottish, Irish, French Canadian and Metis heritage so strong in the area, there is a long tradition of these arts and they are truly Canadian in the sense that any person of any background can enjoy them. Stepdancing is also an effective (and fun!) form of exercise and definitely gets the blood flowing. And this form of dance is not just for the girls; guys can also enjoy stepdancing and many of the best stepdancers in Canada are male!

In the school's new location on Golf Club Road, Samantha is preparing to welcome current and new students for the September session. She is offering fiddle and stepdance lessons for anyone ages 4 and older and is willing to work around her students' schedules to find a class time that is convenient.

The September session begins after Labour Day and registrations will be accepted until September 7th. The class sizes are limited to ensure that Samantha and her instructors can give you the most out of your lesson. And it's not just for kids! Adults are more than welcome and you can even take lessons with your child if you wish.

You can register for a trial month of lessons today by calling 474-7982 or emailing Samantha.

For those who would like to check out the new location or see for themselves what the school has to offer, Samantha will be hosting an open house at the school on Saturday, September 5th from 1-3 p.m. All are welcome to check out the location and see the instructors and some of their students demonstrate their talents.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Toasting Fiddles and Drams

A TWO-DAY musical extravaganza celebrating an array of Scottish talent launches at Winton House, in Pencaitland, next weekend.
Fiddles and Drams 2009 kicks off at 7pm with concert and ceilidh next Friday (August 28). Performances from Ruaridh MacMillan, current BBC Alba Young Musician of the Year, will be followed by Session A9 and an end of night ceilidh with Deoch n Dorus.
The following day (Saturday, August 29) is a family fun day, from 11am until 4pm, which includes music sessions and workshops with Rachel Newton and Jennifer McGlone, story-telling with Claire Mulholland and live music.
There will also be a range of activities, such as falconry, laser clays, dog and duck herding, clay pigeon shooting, archery and session tents - visitors are invited to bring their own instruments.
The jam-packed programme continues in the evening with a family ceilidh between 4.30pm-6.30pm.
From 7pm there will be performances from Lau, followed by The Julie Fowlis Band and an end of night ceilidh with 'Or' led by Fiona Dalgetty, the musical director for the weekend.
Rob Steadman, events and marketing manager of Winton House, said: "The estate and its surroundings offer stunning scenery and spectacular countryside and we hope to keep it that way.
"We are striving to leave as small a carbon footprint as possible from this event as we are already a Carbon Neutral Venue.
"We are encouraging visitors to use the shuttle bus service, car share, or hire a minibus if travelling in groups, in this instance parking is free."
And a treat is in store for 'patriots'. . . as all kilt/tartan wearers over the weekend will also be treated to one free drink.
For ticket information, visit or phone 01875 340222.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Folk on the Farm fiddle

FOLK fiddle enthusiasts are in for a treat this summer when top fiddle player Tom Kitching makes a welcome return to Ashby Arts Festival.

Tom will lead a fiddle workshop at the Folk on the Farm events taking place just outside the town during the first weekend of the festival on Saturday, August 22.

Last year’s workshop was fully subscribed and organiser Sue Kendrick, whose farm is hosting the event, said bookings are already coming in.

She said: "Tom is one of the country’s top young fiddle players. He made the BBC finals for Young Folk Musician of the Year and plays professionally in several well known bands doing the rounds of the folk circuit.

"The workshop was a sell out last year and we’re anticipating the same level of interest this time around."

Tom, along with Gren Bartley, was a huge hit during last year’s festival when he played to a capacity audience at the Venture Folk concert.

He opens the Folk on the Farm events with a Friday evening ceildh on August 21. More information is available from Sue Kendrick on 01530 223467.

Alternatively, visit

Friday, August 14, 2009

Music and laughter at Fiddle Frenzy

I’m not sure how to start this review. To be honest, I probably shouldn’t even be writing it, being a Fetlar lass myself. But you’ll have to excuse that fact, I’m afraid, because Fiddle Frenzy’s night in Fetlar was superb.

There’s something magical about Fetlar. Maybe it’s all the trowie goings on or maybe it’s just because it’s home, but I always feel there’s something special about the place, and it would seem I’m not the only one if the crowd’s reaction on Friday night was anything to go by.

Headlining was the brilliant Fullsceilidh Spellemanslag, who need no introduction here (and I’m not about to get myself into trouble trying …) Their lively set was a big hit with the crowd and got everyone shouting for an encore, and while they were brilliant, for me the highlight of the night came much earlier.

The first act was made up of fiddle players Maurice Henderson, Ashley Leaper and Joe Jamieson, with Andrew Leaper on guitar, who were introduced by Lawrence Tulloch as “a Fetlar band”. It’s here that you’ll have to forgive my bias because 80-year-old Joe Jamieson is my uncle and Andrew and Ashley are my cousins.

Uncle Joe is a brilliant fiddle player, something I’d heard about a lot growing up but didn’t hear for myself until a few years ago, when he took the fiddle down at my granny’s and played for us one New Year.

Seeing him on stage playing was excellent, especially because so many of the tunes he knows are old, many without names, learnt from other great fiddle players now long gone. It’s special to have someone that can remember them and pass them on to another generation to enjoy.

One such tune played on Friday was learnt from the late Irvine Park, another Fetlar man. Uncle Joe either forgot its name or forgot to ask, so it remains nameless. Others were Winyadepla, Heogravilta and Garster’s Dream, which are all traditional Shetland tunes. It was a lovely set and a gentle start to the night.

The next act on was Kevin Henderson on fiddle, accompanied by guitarist Fionán de Barra. The pair played seven sets of traditional and modern tunes, as well as a couple of guitar tunes from Fionán.

Originally from Dublin, Fionán now plays with Fiddlers’ Bid. I was blown away with his playing. It’s not often my attention is pulled away from the fiddle but with his style, rhythm and impressive finger picking it was hard for it not to be. It was a brilliant reminder that the guitar doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) play second, er, fiddle in a set like that. Wow is pretty much all that came to mind.

Some of the highlights of their set included a Gaelic song learnt by Kevin from the Boys of the Lough, which will also have to go nameless as Kevin can’t pronounce it. (He didn’t attempt to sing it either, but played the tune instead.) It had a lovely melody and worked really well as a fiddle tune.

They also played Da Trowie Burn and a barn dance learnt from Irish fiddler Martin Hayes. Da Trowie Burn is a favourite of mine, a beautiful Shetland lament and the kind of tune that makes you homesick, and was beautifully played.

The boys finished with a tune written after a night spent in Austin, Texas, on a Fiddlers’ Bid tour, when Kevin and Maurice managed to convince some unwitting folk that they were a Gaelic singing duo. I’m not sure I’d want a repeat of that performance but the tune that came from it was excellent.

The third act on were the Cullivoe Fiddlers. With various members of the band having played from the middle of the last century, it was good to hear them still on the go.

After some minor trowie technical interference, fourth and final act Fullsceilidh took to the stage and immediately got the crowd stomping their feet and even a few young ones up to dance.

They played tunes from their new album Spreefix, as well as a few new ones including Pure Sandy, after the late Sandy Macaulay, and the Pierhead Reel and were, as ever, sickeningly good.

A quick scan around the hall revealed a rare sight – people of all ages sitting enthralled. I can’t imagine many other occasions that young kids will sit for over an hour to watch a night of fiddle music.

After the rows of seating were cleared away there was a dance to Leeshinat to round things off before the various visitors, musicians and organisers made their way to the last ferry. The night reminded me – as did all of the music heard at the Fiddle Frenzy week – of how lucky we are in Shetland to have talent like this on our doorstep.

Louise Thomason

Erin McGeown on Fiddle with some Irish Reels

Co. Armagh fiddle player Erin McGeown plays a selection of three reels, accompanied on guitar by Deirdre Murray of Toome, Co. Antrim. The first one Erin learned from the playing of Fiddlesticks, the second is a version of "The Mason's Apron" and the third reel is a setting of "The Maid Behind the Bar".


Irish fiddle player, Zoë Conway, is a prodigious talent, equally at home in both traditional Irish and classical styles. Her list of achievements belies her youthful age as Zoë has performed across the globe, both as a solo artist and also playing with international acts such as Riverdance, Damien Rice, Rodrigo y Gabriella, Nick Cave and Lou Reed among others. She is a holder of the much coveted All-Ireland Senior Fiddle Champion title, winning the prestigious competition in 2001. She was also recently voted Best Traditional Female of the Year in Irish Music Magazine. Zoë is increasingly in demand as a tutor, regularly giving workshops and lectures on the merits of classical and traditional music on the violin. She has performed at festivals such as Glastonbury, LOrient, Tonder and Womad and has also performed in some of the most prestigious concert halls in the world including The National Concert Hall, Dublin; The Kremlin, Russia; The Kennedy Centre, Washington; The Broadway Gershwin Theatre and Carnegie Hall, New York. To date, she has released two solo albums, Zoë Conway, produced by Bill Whelan, and The Horses Tail, both critically acclaimed, and she recently released a live DVD, Zoë Conway Live.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Fiddling for the first lady

Adam Larkey was born and raised in Abingdon.
For a short while, he had a normal sort of life.
Then his father brought home a fiddle.
Soon enough, Adam’s life wasn’t all that normal, not unless you count playing for first lady Michelle Obama in Washington, D.C., normal.
Oh, and he’s only 12 years old.
“My dad had brought home an old fiddle and I just wouldn’t leave it alone,” Larkey said of his start with the instrument.
He practiced all the time, he said, and played a few shows with his father, a bluegrass bass player, before going on to win the 2008 Youth Old Time Fiddle Championship at the Galax Fiddlers Convention. He’s also appeared on a number of local radio and television shows, including WCYB’s Family Focus, WJHL’s Cable Country, the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion and even played on the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree in Nashville.
Rhythm and Roots and the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance got invited to take part in the White House Summer Music Series and needed to find musicians to send.
Adam, already on the rise in the local sound scene, was a natural pick.
He and nine others from Southwest Virginia and northeastern Tennessee traveled to the nation’s capital a short time later.
“We went to the capital and saw all the monuments,” said Adam. “We walked until our feet were sore and then we kept walking.”
The trip wasn’t just a site-seeing adventure, though. Adam got a chance to participate in a songwriting workshop hosted by Brad Paisley and Allison Krauss.
“We went into a room with a very, very nice stage. Allison Krauss and Brad Paisley played a few songs for us then told us anyone can write a song,” he said.
Adam said Nashville stars gave out some good advice on writing, but he was already acquainted with the writing process. Two years ago, Adam wrote a song for the 2007 Tennessee State PTA Reflection Contest. He walked away with first place.
Now that Adam’s back from Washington, he said he’s going to be working on another song based on the Erwin Six, a group of POW’s from Erwin, Texas.
“I’m a history buff,” he said. “I thought this story was really cool and if I could write a song about them, maybe more people would open their eyes to who they were.”
Though he’s only 12, Adam has had a few run-ins with stars. He’s played alongside Michael Cleveland, Kim Karnes, Penny Gilley, Third Thyme Out and the Little River Band.
Adam also plays in a band with friends and siblings called Mountain Time.
As he’s looking to get back in the studio to record his song and some other music, another brush with fame is keeping him out.
“Ralph Stanley has the studio all booked up,” he said.
To see more of Larkey or hear his music, visit
Justin Harmon can be reached at or 276-628-7101