[one]Feet were a-tappin’ and fiddles were a-twangin’ as the MSU Philharmonic and Fiddlers ReStrung fused their creative styles of music together to create a new sound. The orchestra loosened their collars and embraced the spirit of bluegrass as the different groups blended classical with folk. The college students and fiddling group meshed their talents to create what can only be described as a “classical hoedown” on campus.
The Fiddlers ReStrung, a group of string players out of Saline High School in Saline, Mich. was founded by string educator and composer Bob Phillips when he was a music teacher in Saline. As a teacher, Phillips included alternative styles of music – meaning anything non-classical – into his teaching repertoire.
“As a double bass player, I’ve been thrown into every ensemble possible. My background as a musician is eclectic and I took that into the classroom,” Phillips said. “Fiddlers ReStrung grew organically out of the fact that I was teaching and kids thought it would be cool to start a group. They wanted to play, perform and explore improvisation.”
[bob]Music education senior Cori Smith serves as the artistic director for Fiddlers ReStrung and member of the MSU Philharmonic Orchestra. “It is more of a calling,” Smith said. For Smith, it began when Phillips put out a call to her 8th grade orchestra class to audition for the fiddling group. She performed with the group in high school and went on to a performing career for two years, touring the United States and Canada. After Smith enrolled at MSU, Phillips retired and she was offered her former teacher’s position. “He has been probably my most influential mentor in my entire teaching career. I call him up whenever I need advice,” Smith said.
Fiddling has surely become part of the culture of Saline. “It has grown into something now where even if there were no fiddle teachers, they would find a way to continue the tradition, because it’s become such an integral part of the community,” Smith said. Phillips said many music teachers see teaching as a performance and the act of teaching is to be a performer in classroom. His own style of teaching is more than just presenting information and organizing kids. Phillips used humor to motivate and encourage his students.
Fiddlers ReStrung focuses on preserving fiddle music, serving the community and promoting positive qualities of young adults. “The students have respect for all walks of life,” Smith said. “We played at a school for children with autism and [my students] got a chance to see what life is like for their peers in different situations. It is really important for [my students] to see what they do for other people’s lives. They are very mature kids.”
Adriane Rasmussen is a high school student at Saline High School and plays the cello in Fiddlers ReStrung. “The main reason that I love fiddle music is because it lets you think outside of the box,” Rasmussen said. “Fiddle music just seems way more interesting and inspiring than classical music. The other reason I like playing fiddle music is because when I play with the group, the music seems to come alive.”
But being dedicated to the fiddle typically tends to draw an older crowd. Saline High School senior and cello player Catherine Noble was happy for the opportunity to collaborate with the MSU Philharmonic students in a January concert on campus. “It is good for us because we don’t get to play with college students very often,” Noble said. “It’s cool to play with people closer to our age.” [two]
When Raphael Jimenez, the associate director of orchestras, invited Fiddlers ReStrung to perform with the MSU Philharmonic Orchestra, he thought the event would create a sense of inclusion and unite two different musical styles together. “The world is a tapestry made out of many different colors,” Jimenez said. “It is through music that those colors can be preserved. It would be awful to have one single planet that is just gray.” Jimenez said the contrast between two such different musical styles creates an opportunity to promote and cultivate folk music, which is traditionally American. American folk music started as an oral history and was sung to express struggles people had to endure. War, civil rights, work, oppression and economic hardship have all been the subject matter of folk songs. “To me, heritage is extremely important,” Jimenez said. “What makes us different is what makes this world wonderful. I think it is extremely important to cultivate and promote differences. This concert is a way to show that we have cool stuff here in the U.S. and we should learn more about it.”
As for fiddle music, Smith describes it as a feeling. Originally used to accompany community dances, fiddle music now permeates every venue, from theaters to dance halls to family gatherings around the fireplace, Smith said. “It is tricky to define, but in general, fiddle music is unique because is a spontaneous, creative, inclusive act of shared music-making. There are no rules, and anything can happen.”
[fid1]For their performance together at MSU, the orchestra first played a suite from the ballet “Billy the Kid” and selections from “Pops Hoe-Down,” including “Pop Goes the Weasel” and “Turkey in the Straw.” Fiddlers ReStrung then took the stage in black and red studded uniforms and played three tunes featuring individual solos. A few students incorporated square dancing into the performance. It was on the last song, “Orange Blossom Special,” that the two groups united their unique sounds in a joint performance.
Smith gave her cowboy hat to Jimenez as he conducted the orchestra. With the crescendo of the final note, Jimenez raised his hat and the audience erupted into applause. Getting into the American folk music sprit, the audience even let out a few “Yee-haws.”
A week after the concert, Smith said the concert left a lasting impression on the high school students. “They are still talking about it. They thought it was really cool to hang out with people that are young enough that they can still relate to them, but old enough that they can look up to them,” Smith said. “The experience of playing on stage with a good orchestra and having a really responsive crowd was really fun for them.”
With one more year of undergraduate study, plus student teaching, Smith said this is her last year as creative director for the fiddlers. The decision was hard for Smith, and the students are what she will miss most. “I’ve been doing this for four years now and there are just a lot of really great kids in the group. I love watching them grow up. That’s probably my favorite part of the job,” Smith said.
Smith aspires to teach high school music and develop musicianship programs that will incorporate different genres of music into the classroom. “That is sort of a job that is just starting to be explored now, but I think it’s important especially in our culture,” Smith said. “It’s losing music very quickly and becoming the iPod generation where kids don’t really connect through music. I want to help bridge that gap.”