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Kids thrive on old-time fiddling

Sun., April 2, 2006

Tiny fingers flew up and down fiddle strings, filling the room with the twang of bluegrass and toe-tapping tunes.

Some of the kids who competed in the “small fry” division of Saturday’s fiddle contest stood only waist-high to the adults that accompanied them on acoustic guitar, but the music they played still made folks want to dance.

“What we’ve got here is a phenomenon,” said Clair Lundin, 86 and one of the oldest fiddlers in Spokane. “These kids are getting good instruction, and they play extremely well.”

“Fiddlin’ ain’t gonna die now,” his twin brother and accompanist, Grant Lundin, interjected. “We’ve got the future right here.”

More than 100 fiddle players – most under the age of 18 – can be found at East Valley High School this weekend for the 38th annual Northwest Regional Fiddle Contest. Old-time fiddlers from eight states and three Canadian provinces are here for this two-day contest showcasing the talent of musicians as young as 4 and some even older than the Lundin twins.

Standing on a stage in front of a wooden, old-fashioned backdrop, the youngest fiddlers each had four minutes to play three selections – a hoedown, waltz and a song of their choice.

Drew Miller, a 7-year-old from Otis Orchards, smiled as he sauntered up the stage with his miniature fiddle. He didn’t miss a beat during his performance of “Bear Creek,” “Georgie Anna Moon” and “Cotton Patch.” In fact, he wasn’t even nervous, he later said.

His dad, Ed, however, didn’t feel as confident when he took the stage to accompany the boy. “I was a wreck,” Ed Miller confessed, clutching his Gibson guitar. “My knees are still shaking.”

Father and son wore matching plaid shirts, dark blue jeans and hefty silver belt buckles for their morning performance. Their outfits, however, along with all the cowboy hats, frilly hair bows and other accessories that many kids wore, were strictly for the audience made up mostly of parents, grandparents and other relatives. The judges – five professional fiddlers from Montana, Kentucky, Spokane and British Columbia – did their work in a nearby classroom, basing their decisions solely on the quality of the music they heard through a large speaker in the room.

Like other kids in the “small fry” division for those 8 and under, Drew was drawn to fiddle music even before he started school. He saw someone playing on TV when he was 4 and immediately begged his parents to get him a fiddle. Ed Miller balked at first, but his wife, Kerri, found one on eBay. The boy started taking lessons and was taking part in competitions within three months.

His little sister, Emilie, also plays. The 3-year-old took up the instrument when she was only 18 months old. They usually practice for about a half-hour each day, right before watching “The Simpsons” on TV.

Miller, a firefighter, soon became so immersed in the world of fiddling that he decided to take on the responsibility of helping organize this year’s fiddle contest.

“It’s a great creative outlet,” said the proud dad. “Give kids an instrument – any instrument – because music is so important.”

Outside of Nashville or Austin, Texas, Eastern Washington and North Idaho are among only a few areas in the country that can boast of having such a high number of champion fiddlers, said Muriel Turner, of Davenport, whose four daughters all play the instrument.

That success, parents say, is all due to Jay Dean Ludiker and other local teachers who have ignited in their students a love affair with music.

“Fiddling’s got a momentum that can’t be stopped,” said Grant Lundin, who also played the instrument for many years. “The little kids now play better than the old timers.”


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