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Celtic-inspired retreat held Sunday

By Staff | Jan 9, 2015

If you were to ask musician Madeline La Porta the difference between a violin and a fiddle, she would simply tell you that it’s all in the way you handle the strings.

“I didn’t choose the fiddle – the fiddle chose me,” she said, describing her longtime relationship with the string instrument.

La Porta said she was 8 years old when she was introduced to her first violin.

“My brother and I came home from school one day and there were two violin cases waiting for us, and it was like magic. I was just blown away by the sound, by the velvet interior whenever I opened the case,” she said.

But La Porta said even though she was in love with the instrument, she had trouble interpreting musical notes.

After taking a break from the fiddle for nearly 35 years, La Porta picked up her fiddle again and found that her passion had only grown with time.

She found her place again as a fiddler when she began practicing the traditions of Irish folk music – a new way of interpreting music that relies on using the ears, as opposed to the eyes.

“That’s what I enjoy about the Irish fiddle,” she said. “They don’t read that much music; it’s all about what you hear.”

Since La Porta began practicing her new style of Irish fiddle, she has been going strong as a musician for more than three years.

“Another musician once told me that if you’re reading the music with your eyes, it’s going to stay in your head. But if you’re hearing the music with your ears, it’s going to go to your heart,” she said. “And I may not have the best ear, but I also don’t have the worst.”

In fact, La Porta got a chance to show off her Irish fiddle skills this past weekend during the 12th annual Upper Potomac Fiddle Retreat held at Shepherd University.

More than 60 musicians and eight instructors attended the retreat, joining together in a number of Celtic-inspired jam festivals, learning workshops and dance sessions.

Instructor Ken Kolodner, who taught a combined course of fiddle and hammered dulcimer Sunday afternoon, said he enjoyed being able to share his experiences with others.

Kolodner, who is also a physician at Johns Hopkins University, said he likes to think of his musical passion as his main career.

“It’s weird, I know that I would switch the two around,” he said. “I started playing the fiddle when I was 23 years old in graduate school and I’ve just enjoyed it.”

Back at home in Baltimore, Kolodner jams out regularly with his son and an average of 55 other folk musicians.

“The way folks are able to harmonize is so much fun,” Kolodner said.

And whether they were on the fiddle or using the dulcimer, students of all levels had no problem harmonizing during Kolodner’s Sunday morning workshop.

Kathy Sanderson, a musician who was busy practicing a song called “Alison’s Waltz” on the hammered dulcimer, called her love of music a family affair.

“My father built one from a kit and he didn’t want me to have it. Then when I moved to D.C., I saw someone was hosting a dulcimer class and my father showed up at my doorstep with one he’d built for me,” Sanderson said.

Ten years later, Sanderson said her passion for music has never left.

As she continued to press the manual hammers against the strings of the dulcimer, Sanderson compared the sound to that of a piano.

“The more you play, the more you find that the music moves through you,” she said.

The next Shepherdstown Music and Dance Summit is a Piper’s Weekend session, scheduled for Jan. 17 through 19.