For All You Fiddlers

Murphy HenryToday’s blog is written by my Fiddle Sister, Sandy, who is also one of my current crop of Misfits. Sandy is a success story nonpareil. (I always wanted to use that word! I don’t know how to pronounce it but I know it means “without equal.”) Sandy has a fantastic ear, an ear, as you will read below, that lay dormant for years. So sad about that, but better late than never! I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to have helped open the door for her new musical adventure. And that’s all it took: just pointing the way. She did the rest!


Did you once-upon-a-time play the violin?  Maybe like me, you started in elementary school with group lessons.  Maybe like me, you played for years and then put it into a closet.

I took it up again—after 40 years!  Read on.  When I was a fourth grader, I started group lessons which lasted a month.  Then I was onto private weekly lessons.  I played—from the age of nine until I got through high school.  When I started college I dropped all music.  Of course, I’m sorry now, but who can tell a teenager anything?

Thinking back on it, I’m not sure why I quit playing.  I think it was because I wasn’t a “star” and I didn’t like the kind of music I had to practice.  Do you know anybody who can choose a teenager’s music?

When I played the violin, playing by ear was a “no-no” and discouraged by both my teacher and my dad.  I was to play classical music with the notes in front of me.  That’s all well and good if that’s what a kid wants to do. However, I had a good ear and could play any tune I knew. (Well, forget those with too many sharps and flats).

When nobody was listening, I often played favorite tunes from the hit parade by ear.  (Are you old enough to remember “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?” or “Come On To My House”?)

Classical music and opera wafted through our home all the while I was growing up, but I always loved other kinds of music.  Even after stopping lessons, I hauled my violin with me wherever I lived, but I never played it.  Built about the time of World War I, it once belonged to Wayne King’s father.  It has a great sound.

OK, hold on as we go fast-forwarding.  I grow up.  Get married.  Have kids.  And retire to Winchester, Virginia, with my husband (now also old).  And what do I do but dust off that old fiddle, get some new strings, order a bow and start playing again!  Forty years later.  With Murphy!  By ear!  How good can life get anyhow?

I saw Murphy in action a number of years ago on our historical walking street mall one day playing her fiddle with one of her banjo students.  I was hooked.  Immediately!  I returned to lessons—this time by ear and for fun—with Murphy.

Of course, this music is new to me, and it’s not as easy as picking up the fiddle and working out “Tennessee Waltz” which I remember from my childhood.  I have to listen closely and try to remember from one jam to the next which key and which note to start on. Then I’m ready to roll.

Murphy put four of us kindred spirits together (Fiddle Sisters) to play both Christmas songs and other tunes.  We played by ear.  We harmonized.  We played for holiday festivals.  And, we grinned all the while!  It was unadulterated fun!

In addition to holiday songs, we developed a repertoire of tunes like “Golden Slippers,” “Down Yonder,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Faded Love.”  I knew these songs from years ago, so I just played them.  We actually skipped that middle step of reading the notes from a page, processing them in our brains, and producing the sounds through our hands.  Wow!  I went from reading music to just playing it!  It was such a liberating experience.  Since we already knew many of these tunes, now all we had to do was to play them.

Remember Arthur Murray, the ballroom dancing teacher, said, “Get back into life, try dancing!”  I’d say the same goes for playing an instrument—get going.  If you’ve always wanted to play, now is the time.  You’ll be so glad you did, and you’ll wonder how you were ever happy before without the music!  I’m partial to the fiddle, of course, but I imagine the same goes for other instruments.

I have never ever been happier making music than I am right now.  Murphy is a terrific teacher who makes it all fun.  In addition to playing bluegrass with the Misfits, I play renaissance music with another group, and traditional dance music with a couple of Celtic groups. My recipe for getting back into life is to start making music!  And, I promise you’ll live happily ever after…

Sandy Lore
Winchester, Virginia, in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley