Friday, May 27, 2011

Homestead Attitude: Fiddle Fest

If a fiddle is a violin with attitude then this competition is the perfect way to get the summer started with the right attitude. Homestead National Monument of America hosts an annual fiddling championship every year on Memorial Day weekend, and this year stands to be one of the best!

The competition is geared towards all ability levels and begins with Deborah Greenblatt teaching a free workshop in the morning. She was the first woman to win the Nebraska State Fiddling Championship, the first woman to win the Mid-America Fiddle Championship and is a member of the Mid-America Old-Time Fiddler’s Hall of Fame.

Greenblatt finds the atmosphere at the Monumental Fiddling Championship and Acoustic Band Contest to be inviting and nurturing for all levels of musicians. It is a day for fiddlers of all ages and experience levels to come together much like they did when the first pioneers arrived in the 1800’s and began settling the prairie. The sounds of fiddlers were often heard whenever homesteaders got together and those same sounds will be heard on May 28, 2011, at the eleventh annual Monumental Fiddling Championship and Acoustic Band Contest.

Greenblatt enjoys the jam sessions. “They inspire and entertain each other on stage and play nicely together in the many jam sessions that erupt all over the landscape,” said Greenblatt. Over the years she said that many musicians have told her they were inspired to begin to play because of the performances and jam sessions they observed at the Monumental Fiddling Championships.

The competition is also free and offers fiddlers the chance to be judged in a non-threatening environment. Each participant is given comments by the three judges. Professional musician and high school band director Nathan LeFeber has been a judge several times. “From the great music that is made, to the prizes and trophies, to the free fiddle they give away each year it is no wonder folks are coming from miles around to compete in this contest,” said LeFeber.

Competition helps musicians get better. “Give folks a high standard and then let them work at trying to achieve their best with the hopes they might be in the top three. That is what competition in music is all about,” said LeFeber.

Seventeen-year-old Joe Ferizzi from Dearborn, Missouri, finished second in the adult division in 2010. Ferizzi enjoys the thrill of competing, the chance to meet new people and hear new songs. “If I hear a song I like at competition, I will go home and do my best to learn the song,” said Ferizzi. He also thinks it helps a musician deal with the suspense of being on stage.

His grandpa also played the fiddle and influenced his decision of instrument. “My grandpa played the violin and one day when I was six I was sitting in the kitchen with my parents and they saw an ad for violin or piano lessons. When they asked me if I would rather play the violin or the piano I quickly said violin.”

Not only is Ferizzi an accomplished fiddler he is also an outstanding violinist earning straight ones in each category at state competition last year.

The event also attracts families that enjoy fiddling together. In 2009 Carl Cook from Independence, Missouri, won the Senior Division and his daughter, Cecelia Cook, placed third in the Junior Division.

Following the morning workshop participants will break for lunch and prepare for the competition in the afternoon. It is also free for both participants and spectators. The one rule which makes this competition unique is that all songs must have been written between 1863, when the first homestead was filed, and 1936, when Homestead National Monument of America was established.

The day ends with the announcement of winners and an opportunity at a paid gig for the evening finale. Trophies are given to the top three finishers in the Junior and Senior Division and the Acoustic Band Contest. Leigh F. Coffin, Jane M. Coffin, & Leigh M. Coffin Foundation have been long term supporters and provide the prize money and opportunity for the winners to choose a fiddle.

The winner of a Tune Writing Competition which is held in conjunction with the Nebraska Chapter of the American String Teachers Association is also announced. And the best left-handed fiddler and the youngest fiddler are recognized.

“But win or not there are no losers at this competition,” said LeFeber, “ For young and old, it is a great time!”

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