A group of people have come together to tell a unique story in the Cariboo: the history of Canada told through fiddle music.
Arranged by composer, musician and teacher Gordon Stobbe, the project is currently in rehearsal in Williams Lake.
Approximately 40 local young fiddlers, guitar and mandolin players and a piano player, are working to get the two-and-a-half hour concert ready for the stage, directed by violin/fiddler teacher Ingrid Johnston.
The Williams Lake community was first introduced to ‘The Fiddle History of Canada’ when a fiddle group from Smithers performed it last summer at St. Andrew’s United Church.
Ingrid explained that Gordon Stobbe was well-known to the families of local kids who attended the Gavin Lake Fiddle Camp.
“This arrangement is so well done, and he is so charismatic and laid-back: people thought it would be a great fit to do it here,” she said.
Workshops with the Youth Fiddlers and Gordon Stobbe were soon organized, where the kids started learning the songs, instructed by Stobbe, Johnston and professional fiddler and instructor J.J. Guy.
Ingrid says parental support is huge for the Youth Fiddlers.
“It’s a real time commitment — driving kids to rehearsals, workshops and performances is a big part of it,” Johnston says. “We have kids from Horsefly, Big Lake and Alexis Creek.
“The parents have worked so hard on this project, and the great thing is that they each use their talents and skills to contribute what they’re really good at.”
Members of the Cariboo Chilcotin Youth Fiddlers Society have performed songs from Fiddle History at venues and events around Williams Lake this past year, including the Medieval Market, the recent community fundraiser for TubaJohn and Debbie Sykes and Family Fest 2013 held at Marie Sharpe Elementary School last Sunday.
Ingrid has been in regular rehearsals with the fiddlers since the last workshop, September 2012, getting ready for the next one, which begins on Feb. 27.
This workshop marks the half-way mark, where the young musicians will begin learning the second half of Fiddle History.
“When I first saw this performance live by the Smithers fiddle group it resonated with me,” Johnston said. “Smithers is a small town, too and they showed so much talent. I really enjoyed how well put together it was — the acting, costumes and the drama. It was so entertaining and beautiful and the timing was good for us. We needed a goal for the local group.”
Parents say that there have been many generous sponsors who have supported the Youth Fiddlers and made this project possible, including local individuals, businesses and industry.
Ingrid has approximately 48 students, and 90 per cent of the Youth Fiddlers take lessons from her. She teaches both violin and fiddle in a real mix of styles.
Her own musical experience began when she was introduced to piano when she was four years old.
“My mom would hold me on her lap, and we would find notes and play around on the piano,” she said, adding that she started violin when she was six.
“Growing up in a ranching community between Vernon and Kamloops, I played a mix of styles, like ragtime, big band, classical and even a couple of musicals.”
When she married Cariboo resident Ty Johnston, she moved to the Williams Lake area.
“I started teaching piano when I was a teen, and when I moved here I started teaching violin in the evenings, working around a full time job,” she continued. “I’ve been teaching here now for about 12 years.”
She said that one thing she’s looking forward to is the community concert on March 2 that will follow the Fiddle History workshop.
“People are blown away at the quality of these concerts, and at the kids’ abilities,” she noted. “It’s a small-community wholesome, Saturday night dance that brings back wonderful memories for people.
“The kids work very hard throughout the year, and having a great audience that appreciates what they’ve all put into it is very positive for them.”
One of the young fiddlers is 12-year-old Mackenzie Magnowski, one of Johnston’s students. She said that she started violin when she was five years old, and fiddle when she was nine.
“I love fiddle because it’s all about playing with other people and isn’t focused on just one person,” she said. “All the songs in Fiddle History make me happy. I’m really looking forward to the workshop to just being able to learn more of these cool songs with such great instructors and such good friends.
“Ingrid is wonderful,” Mackenzie added. “She is all you could hope for.”
The workshop takes place at Thompson Rivers University North from Wednesday, Feb. 27 to Saturday, March 2. On the the Saturday evening the fiddle group will perform for the TRU Splash of Colour scholarship fundraising gala, then welcome the community to an open fiddle concert and dance at the Longhouse.
The Longhouse doors open at 7 p.m. and concert is at 7:15 p.m. with admission by donation.