Entertainer cover Nov. 27, 2009
From top: Corvallis fiddlers Rebecca Lomnicky, Alex Hargreaves and Tatiana Hargreaves have all won major competitions in 2009. (Andy Cripe/The Entertainer)

Queen of Scots: Rebecca Lomnicky

Earlier this fall, Corvallis High School senior Rebecca Lomnicky was one of only eight fiddlers in the world to be invited to compete in the Glenfiddich Fiddle Competition at Blair Castle in Perthshire, Scotland.

Being invited to the 20th anniversary competition, which took place Nov. 1, was an honor in itself. Those who compete do so by invitation only after a successful year winning competitions around the world, meaning that the Glenfiddich Fiddle Championships are often seen as deciding the champion of champions in the style.

Rebecca, the youngest competitor, became only the second American to claim the title after Raemond Jappy won last year.

It was a sweet moment for Rebecca, who started playing violin in second grade when she was 5 years old and became interested in Scottish-style fiddling when she was just 9. In the years since, she has pored over traditional Scottish songbooks.

Her hero has always been Natalie McMaster, one of the best-known musicians in the tradition of Cape Breton fiddle music.

“I wanted to play exactly like her,” Rebecca said.

With her amazing achievements in the Scottish fiddling world, it can be easy to forget that Rebecca has many musical talents and that they have taken her far, including a trip to China with the Heart of the Valley Children’s’ Choir and a trip to Italy as a violinist with the Corvallis Camerata String Orchestra

Rebecca found out she was invited to compete at Glenfiddich in July. She was suggested for the competition by Gregor Borland, whom she first met at Boston Harbor Scottish Fiddle School. The well-known Scottish fiddler lives in Spain.

Borland helped her find a local accompanist for the competition.

“I had a fantastic accompanist, Morag MacAskill,” Rebecca said. “The first time I played with her I felt like the music just really came alive.”

“I think generally the performance went really well,” she said.

She had to play three sets of songs in an approximately 15-minute program. Her first set was a slow air, march and a reel.

“Starting with that slow tune was really hard because you really have to be in the moment,” Rebecca said. “You just have to start out, I think, feeling really strong about it.”

For the first two sets the competitors were given the types of tunes to play. For the final set they had to come up with their own set of tunes by Scottish composer William Marshall.

“That composer changes every year,” Lomnicky said. “It’s a way to keep it varied.”

“This was a very traditional competition,” Lomnicky said. “They are looking for someone who is going to preserve the tradition.”

After the competition, Rebecca was interviewed by Robbie Shepherd of BBC News about the competition, and her winning performance and the interview were aired on the BBC radio show “Take the Floor.”

Rebecca will be automatically invited back to the competition next year.

“And the people in Scotland seem to like the idea of returning to defend your title,” she said. “It might be fun.”

She still hasn’t made up her mind, however. Right now she is in the process of recording a duo CD with David Brewer, a piper from Santa Cruz, Calif., who plays in Molly’s Revenge.

“This trip inspired me to make a CD of just fiddle and piano,” Rebecca said.

Rebecca still doesn’t know for sure where she will attend college, but her priorities include a place where they will let her build her own program and study abroad in Scotland, where she has made many friends.

“All the other competitors, they were really nice people, really wonderful competitors,” she said.

U.S. Grand Master: Alex Hargreaves

Seventeen-year-old Alex Hargreaves completed his high school equivalency exam last spring, freeing up more time for him to pursue a career in music.

Alex plays a wide variety of string music styles including jazz, bluegrass, new acoustic, Texas style and classical.

He recently returned from a tour through southern France, Boston and New York City with The Big Trio (a collaboration with legendary mandolin player Mike Marshall and bass player Paul Kowert).

It’s not a typical part-time job for a teen, but Alex does his best to stay grounded. Living with his parents and little sister in a northwest Corvallis home, he said, “I try my best to stick to a routine.”

So, maybe it’s not surprising that he took home the title of Grand Master Fiddler at the 38th annual competition hosted by the International Bluegrass Music Association. Oct. 1-2, in Nashville, Tenn.

After all, in June 2007, Alex won the Grand Champion division at the National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest in Weiser, Idaho, the youngest contestant ever to win that division, and he won the Championship Division of the Oregon Oldtime Fiddlers Contest three years running from 2005-2007.

“I didn’t really have any expectations,” Alex said. “I try not to over think that kind of thing because it ruins your experience.”

This year’s contest included fiddlers from across the U.S., Canada, the Czech Republic and Japan.

At the contest they had a preliminary round that anyone could enter. Judges chose 10 to 15 challengers from the all-comers to compete against 20 fiddlers invited to the contest for winning other contests.

Alex had to go through the preliminary round to earn a spot in the contest.

“There were a lot of good fiddlers that had to go through prelims,” he said.

The contest is really “Texas style,” Alex said. “It’s not bluegrass at all. If you went and played bluegrass you wouldn’t do well at all.”

After that, there was three rounds of mostly blind judging from which three finalists were chosen for a round-robin final on stage.

“They call out a style of song on stage and you have to play it,” Alex said. “We all played a total of four or five songs.”

For his prize, Alex took home $2,000 in cash and appeared on the stage at the Grand Ole Opry.

Despite Alex’s success in Texas-style and old-time, he said, he wants to pursue a career in “jazz, bluegrass, original music and more modern stuff, kind of like what The Big Trio does.”

“Ultimately, for me, I’m most interested in doing contemporary music,” he said.

Alex plans to attend either the Berklee College of Music, New England Conservatory of Music or Manhattan School of Music next year.

Appalachian Echoes: Tatiana Hargreaves

Tatiana Hargreaves has always been surrounded by music. Her first lucid memory is of practicing violin fingerings, and she was only 6 or 7 years old when she entered her first fiddle contest, following in the footsteps of her older brother Alex.

At 14 years of age, playing both fiddle and banjo, Tatiana has steeped herself in the archives of Appalachian music and song, and has appeared on stage with folk and bluegrass musicians including Bruce Molsky, Darol Anger, Mark O’Connor, Brittany Haas, Crooked Still and many others.

This October, she claimed 11th place at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Fiddle Contest in  Nashville, Tenn., where her brother was named Grand Master Fiddler, and last year, in a feat similar to her brother’s, Tatiana became the youngest ever to win the Championship Division of the Oregon Old Time Fiddlers Contest.

But, the real highlight for Tatiana came in August of this year, when she won top honors at the Appalachian String Band Festival in Clifftop, W. Va.

Better known as simple “Clifftop” in old-time circles, the event gave her a chance to shine in an arena that respects the kind of music she loves.

“It was my first year going to Clifftop,” Tatiana said. “I’ve been hearing about it since I got into old-time.”

“I wasn’t taking it seriously at all and I ended up top five in the adult division,” Tatiana recalled. “I was really, really surprised.”

In the five-person final, Tatiana faced a fiddler more than three times her age in Rafe Stefanini.

It was strange for Tatiana to compete against Stefanini, who is one of her heroes and was in the first old-time band she ever heard, along with her longtime mentor Molsky.

The finalists played two songs without accompaniment for the judges and audience.

“I thought for sure that I would be disqualified because I have a five-string fiddle,” Tatiana said, but the judges allowed for the break with tradition.

Right before the top five were to play on the outdoor stage for the final, a big thunderstorm came up and forced them inside. While they waited to go back on, the finalists jammed together in a back room. The unplanned moment ended up being one of Tatiana’s favorites from the festival.

“There were definitely quite a few people that were against me winning,” Tatiana said. “I just never had the opportunity to learn from the old guys in the mountains.”

“I’m still learning about it. I hope that people respect that I’m trying to be as traditional as I can,” Tatiana said. “If you’re going to stretch a style you have to respect the tradition and learn about it.”

“This is the first time we’ve ever done the whole cross-country thing,” Tatiana said of traveling to West Virginia and Tennessee in the car with her family. “It was really intense.”

Unlike her older brother Alex, who was mostly home-schooled through high school, Tatiana has decided to attend Crescent Valley High School full-time, where as a freshman she plays violin in the Corvallis Youth Symphony and Camerata String Orchestra.

“In case I decide not to go to music school,” she said.

Tatiana has been mentored by Molsky, who has been a big name in the traditional music scene for more than 20 years.

He met Tatiana at a fiddling camp in California a few years back, and they have since performed together and collaborated on CDs.

“We just became pen pals, actually,” Tatiana said. “It turns out we are both obsessed with pens and stationery.”

 

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