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  • Maire Clement

Beginning Fiddler at 26


As many of you know, I have a BM and an MM in classical singing. My senior year of high school, I was given the advice that if I really learned how to sing classically, that I could eventually sing anything that I want. This may not prove true for everyone but it certainly has been true for me. Since graduating, I have continued my studies of classical music, but have also opened my heart to singing bluegrass and folk music, writing songs, as well as playing the fiddle.

I spent a week at Pinewoods Harmony of Song and Dance Music Camp. I never went to traditional camp growing up. I went to day camps where we would "make a musical in just two weeks" and other programs like that. I went to two different opera summer programs in Italy....but at age 26, I embarked on going to a music camp for the first time. This is a camp that people continue to go to every summer year after year I learned. They have thousands of traditions that everyone seemed to know about. These people looked for any excuse to sing and dance...and they all seemed to know every song. As the week progressed, I learned that pretty much everyone there was also an incredible instrumentalist...

Davey bought me a fiddle 2 Christmases ago. Slowly, I've gotten the courage to practice and open my heart to my fiddle: Gertrude. So at a summer camp filled with new people, It took until day 3 for me to finally take my fiddle out of the case. Every time I play my fiddle at jam sessions, my inner critic runs wild through my head. As a classically trained musician, I am very aware with how I want my instrument to sound and the notes I want to play but I don't understand the fiddle as well as piano or as the voice yet so it takes some time for my brain to catch up. Sometimes, my whole body freezes up when I try to play in a jam and I forget how the melody of a tune I've been practicing for a year even goes. When I listen to the voice of criticism in my head I hear very loud and clear "You are mediocre at everything you do." When I am feeling vulnerable, that one statement leads quickly to examples:

-a mediocre pianist

-mediocre songwriter

-mediocre musician

-mediocre at learning

-mediocre teacher

-mediocre at literally anything that I can possibly think of...

It feels really silly to write about it now because I know that I am an amazing singer, a brave songwriter, a sensitive pianist, a thoughtful and loving teacher, and I am constantly learning new things and pushing myself to grow in uncomfortable ways. I am thinking about freshman year of college when I started running and how my legs doubled in size because this was the first time in my life when I was truly athletic. I was so embarrassed by my stretch marks. I bought all of the creams to get rid of them (which of course didn't work). It's funny to think about that now, because part of my career is athletic. I teach and practice yoga nearly every day of the week and I hardly notice the stretch marks from freshman year. They are still there if I look for them...but I am so proud of my body and my growth.

So back to music camp: I took a deep breath and played my fiddle in the square. I wasn't ready to bow, but I could certainly pick the strings...Then I jammed with a couple of friends on the pier...THEN I jammed with some strangers that night.

Now I am a *classically trained singer and highly qualified voice teacher* (said in an overly prestigious and ridiculous manner).....but when I hear people sing, NEVER do I think "wow, they are terrible. they should just give up..." but yet that is what I constantly believe instrumentalists are saying about me. "Wow, she sucks...she's really ruining our jam...if she wasn't here, then we could really make music." I suddenly realized that the people that I want to make music with, won't possibly think that or at least won't say it out loud. What they will say is "wow. she is so brave for learning a new and incredibly challenging instrument at age 26." Or even "Wow, she really added something to that tune."

Now, I'm not saying that I can play the melody of fiddle tunes up to tempo, or that I could lead a tune any time soon. But instead of labeling myself as a beginning and mediocre fiddler...instead of waiting for someone to tell me to give up...that I will never be any good...it's time for me to admit to all of you:

I play the fiddle. I'm not going to quit. I won't give up on it. I am good enough. I am smart enough. I am really brave. I am an artist. What an amazing gift to have another instrument, another tool to express my art.

By the end of the week in my songwriting class at this music camp, I had written a song unlike anything I've ever written. In this song, the fiddle plays an integral part. I played it standing on top of a bench in front of my songwriting class. It wasn't perfect, but it was incredible.

So--when I'm ready I will play my fiddle for all of you...and when I'm ready, I will play this song for all of you.

I hope someday, that just like with the stretch marks on my legs, I won't be embarrassed by my growth as a fiddler, but proud to say that I play the fiddle.

For today, I am a one-year-old fiddler at age 26. Wanna jam with me? :)


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© Maire Clement 2019

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