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Fiddle Summit Concert celebrates history of music at Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church

By Staff | Jan 10, 2020

From left, 2016 U.S National Scottish Fiddle Champion Sean Heely, 1995 U.S. National Scottish Fiddle Champion Elke Baker and Dave Wiesler perform a Scottish folk song together, during the Fiddle Summit Concert on Friday night. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Shepherdstown Music and Dance kicked off the year with its first Upper Potomac Music Weekend over the weekend, with the organization’s annual Fiddle Retreat.

The Fiddle Retreat, which is one of three traditional music weekends held at the beginning of every year by Shepherdstown Music and Dance, featured workshops, jam sessions, a contra dance in the War Memorial Building on Saturday night and Fiddle Summit Concert on Friday night. For many participants and community members alike, the concert is considered the kick-off to the weekend’s packed schedule.

“The weekend starts with the concert on Friday evening, at the Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church, as each teacher plays a segment of the concert, which showcases their style. Each half is ended with a few pieces which combine several of the staff in creative ways for medleys of repertoire their styles share,” said Shepherdstown Music and Dance concert chair Joanie Blanton.

According to Blanton, the two-hour-long concert causes many of the retreat participants to get excited about the traditional music they will be learning to play or improving their skills in playing at the Fiddle Retreat. In fact, many of the retreat participants join together after the concert, to play music with the concert performers.

“The fun continues after the concert, in a late night jam, where many of the weekend’s students join the staff in jam sessions where all play together in a variety of styles,” Blanton said.

Fiddler Lisa Ornstein plays a duet with Carl Jones, left, during the Fiddle Summit Concert on Friday night. Tabitha Johnston

This year’s Fiddle Retreat and Fiddle Summit Concert featured the music of 1995 U.S. National Scottish Fiddle Champion Elke Baker, former La Bottine fiddler Lisa Ornstein, 2016 U.S. National Scottish Fiddle Champion Sean Heely, fiddler and contra dance caller David Kaynor, professional fiddler of 30 years Ken Kolodner, composer and pianist Dave Wiesler, Appalachian Stringband Festival first place fiddler Erynn Marshall and composer and multi-instrumentalist Carl Jones.

“It’s great to be back here in Shepherdstown,” Heely said. “This is my third time being here. Most of the time I’m wearing kilts, but tonight and this weekend, I’ll be focusing on Irish tunes.

“I’m going to be doing a jigs class tomorrow, so I thought it would be nice to play a couple of Jigs for you all. Then, I am going to perform my favorite air, ‘The Windswept Hills of Tulla,'” Heely said. “Let’s wait until after I play ‘The Windswept Hills of Tulla’ to see where the music will take me.”

For many of the retreat teachers, the concert was an opportunity to show retreat participants what they could look forward to learning from them over the weekend.

“Wow, these are such beautiful tunes,” Baker said, as she introduced her next song. “One of the classes I’m teaching tomorrow is about ornamentation on the fiddle. This piece I’m going to play has existed since the 1730s, but I recorded the first violin version of it. I’m going to give an abridged version of how I would ornament a song.”

While most of the concert featured lively string music, it also featured Wiesler performing some of his compositions on the piano.

“My job is to put you all to sleep after that lively music, with the piano. I’m the comic relief for the evening,” Wiesler said, laughing, as he introduced his first song, “231 Stairs.” “I played this tune for my wife, and she said to make it more realistic, I should play it slower when I’m going up the run, which imitates the idea of climbing many stairs. If you listen, you can hear those stairs.”