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Never Too Late: Part Four

June 2011 No Comment

(photo: Victor Turco)

By Lois Siegel

Stacy Phillips, editor of Fiddle Sessions, thought it would be a good idea for me to reflect on some of your comments to my “Never Too Late” articles.  What a great idea.


{Continuing Lois’ response to Deborah Fuldauer from February – March 2011 issue.} 

 When I first started the violin in 1997, it was a real struggle.  I just kept at it.  In 2000, I heard about a community orchestra (classical music).  I called to inquire if they needed more violin players.  Orchestras always need more string players. I was told you had to audition. This was the only community orchestra in town that required auditions. I sure knew how to pick them, not.  You had to play a slow and a fast tune. I only knew Celtic tunes.


I auditioned before one of the orchestra rehearsals.  This was scary and exciting.  I had no idea what would happen. I was taken into a quiet hallway. The director of the orchestra was there with one of the orchestra players.   I played Si Bhegh Si More (a slow tune), and The Lilting Banshee (a fast one). They wanted to hear if I could play in tune and if I could read sheet music.


I was accepted. I have no idea why.  The other musicians were light years ahead of me. Almost everyone had started playing as children. I realized the older players had 60+ years of experience on me. I thought: This is crazy.  Then I thought: It’s going to be difficult, but I’ll give it a try.” 


It was difficult.  I was placed at the back of the orchestra with the 2nd violins. Everyone shared music stands (this worked until about a year or two later when I couldn’t read the music anymore from a distance and had to use my own stand).  I shared a stand with a much better player. This was great. I could follow what she was doing. And she gave me pointers: how to play just the first notes of a measure and skip to another measure… if the music was too fast for me to play all the notes. There were tricks to keep up with everyone. Counting was a major problem. In orchestras, there are sections where violins don’t play and other instruments take over. You have to count to know when to come back in. And the bowing is marked on the music sheets: when to use an up bow and when to use a down bow.  This is not easy.  Everything was new.


Playing in an orchestra is wonderful. Being in the centre of the sound where the focus on certain instruments constantly changes is amazing. And you learn how the composer constructed the music to create this sound.  My sight-reading improved tremendously.  Try sight-reading Beethoven.


I played with the orchestra for five years. I only stopped when I was hired as a freelance photographer and most of my work was at night, when the orchestra rehearsed. You had to attend every rehearsal of this orchestra.


Terri said she’s 62 and trying to teach herself fiddle. She’s at the screech, screech stage, but working diligently to get a good sound.


My Response: 

Getting a good sound is not easy when you first start playing because you have no confidence.  You squeak. My husband used to put on earphones and play heavy metal music when I was practicing. That seemed to ease his pain.


One of the first things to do is to make sure you are holding the bow with a firm but flexible grip. You can find lessons about correctly holding the bow on the Internet or in a beginner’s fiddle book.  Since 90% of playing is bowing, this should be a point of focus.  Try using the weight of your arm to press down on the strings with your bow hand. You don’t want to play on top of the strings.


For slower tunes use more bow, for faster tunes, less.  The bow stroke should move parallel to the bridge.  You will get screeching if you are pressing too hard. You will get a thin sound if you are not pressing hard enough.


Jeanne McTiernan said “My teacher was great, but her forte was classical music; she did make the effort to find me some tunes I could relate to.” Jeanne also wrote about listening to CDs in the car on her way to and from work. She listened to them over and over until she knew them by heart.


My Response:  Working on tunes that you really like is very important. You will play more diligently and enjoy the experience.  One of my teachers told me this story:  He had a student whose mother was obviously forcing her son to play the violin. The boy was not happy. The teacher thought about what he could do to make the lessons more interesting for the boy.

The next session, he taught him the theme song to the local professional hockey team in town. The boy was hooked. He enjoyed working on this tune and his playing improved.

Listening to tunes over and over in the car is an excellent way to learn them.  I used to do this when I was commuting from Ottawa to Montreal.

By the time I reached the school where I was teaching, I was humming the tunes to myself.  I used to walk around the hallways smiling and singing the tunes.  Everyone thought I was a little crazy. I didn’t care. One of my fiddle teachers once said that when he was learning the fiddle as a boy, his father insisted that he hum the tune first before he was allowed to try to play it.


I liked the story about your husband watching the hockey game while you were practicing, and one day he wasn’t watching the TV anymore. He was listening to the concert.  That means you had graduated from the screeching phase to playing music.  Excellent.  My husband now often surprises me by humming some of the tunes I play. I’m amazed that he remembers how the tune goes.

Grace wrote that she has the same teacher she had when she was in her 20s.  Her teacher is now 86-years-old and has started to learn the viola.

“People just brainwash the adults to make them feel that it is too late.”


Erica Stux

wrote that she played the accordion as a child. Later in life, she joined a group of retired people to play old standards at nursing homes and senior centres.  When she moved to California, she joined a Klezmer band, but she prefers the oldies.


My Response:  Never Too Late, and it’s your choice to play the music you like best or wish to explore.


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about the author


Lois Siegel is a filmmaker, casting director, photographer, writer and musician.

When she isn’t playing fiddle, she teaches Video Production at the University of Ottawa, Canada.  She plays fiddle, bodhran, spoons, the Ugly Stick the washboard, and the dancing marionette with The Lyon Street Celtic Band and Celtic North.  Siegel just started Siegel Entertainment, representing other musicians.




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