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Home  >  Family and Community  >  Family Collections  >  Kerr
My Fiddle and the Places It Takes Me
By Amanda Kerr

For many of us, "communication" refers to speaking and writing -- making connections through words. The Kerr family, however, has discovered that communication can come in the form of music. They play as a family and as individuals; and when they play, they are expressing themselves with a highly perfected language. Here, Amanda Kerr writes about how music has become an important part of her life, giving her a unique form of expression that allows her to see other parts of the country.

* * *

If you haven't seen me fiddling before, or heard me talking about it, you would probably see me as an ordinary teenager. I'm a freshman at Service High School who likes Irish dancing and talking on the phone with my other teenage friends. When I'm not practicing, you might find me shopping or traveling. I love the summer time. I love the sun and the heat. It doesn't help that I live in Alaska, though. That's why I like to travel.

Amanda warms up at the 2001 National Old Time Contest.
Both of my parents are musicians and have been since before I was born. My dad played a lot of mandolin around the time I was born, so it wasn't surprising that he named me after the instrument. My full name is Amanda Lynn Kerr. He always jokes about how he would have named me Ben Joe Kerr if I were a boy. When I was about 3 years old, my father brought home a fiddle for me. I instantly grabbed it and snapped the bow in half. At that point, my parents decided we should get a teacher before I get another bow or fiddle. That same year, my dad took me to a fiddle contest in Palmer. Audrey Soloman was one of the contestants. My dad made a deal with her mom, who was an excellent violin teacher: if he backed up her daughter on the guitar in the contest, she would give me some free lessons. I took classical lessons from her for about 10 years.

When I was about 6 years old I competed in my very first fiddle contest. I played some very simple songs: "Boil the Cabbages Down," "Ashokin Farewell," and "Rubber Dolly." I didn't win that year, but I did the next year. I have been competing in contests ever since. For the last two years I have had fun going to the National Old-time Fiddler's Contest in Weiser, Idaho. I haven't won anything at that contest yet, but this last year I took 18th place out of 74 contestants, and that was good enough for me. It's just fun to be there.

There are many different styles of fiddle music. The style I grew up with was the old time styles my parents enjoy. It's a very interesting mix of styles. It includes Appalachian, Celtic and New England Contra Dance as well as original tunes, mostly written by my dad. Another style that I like is the Celtic style. I think the reason I like it so much is because I Irish dance and I like the repetitiveness it has. My favorite style is bluegrass. The complex contest fiddle style that I play is very, very similar to the bluegrass style. I used a bluegrass song called "Footprints in the Snow" at a local fiddle contest and won that division.

Amanda proudly displays a fiddle trophy.
One thing I love about playing the fiddle is the places it takes me; I love to travel. Every summer, my father and I travel all over the U.S. to learn new tunes from new people. The most exciting camps I went to were the fiddle camps in Nashville, Tennessee, and San Diego, California, held by Mark O'Connor, who I think may be the best fiddler in the world. At the camps I got to meet other fiddlers, such as Natalie MacMasters, who has the talent to play the fiddle and Irish dance at the same time (I have tried to do this myself, but it's very difficult). Buddy Spicher helped me with improvising. Five-time national fiddle champion, Tony Ludiker and his wife, Jaydean, held another camp I enjoyed, at a ranch in Spokane, Washington. I liked that camp, because it helped me with contest fiddling.

One time my father asked me what I thought about when I played the fiddle, but to tell the truth, I usually just think about things that I would think about even if I weren't playing the fiddle. In the future I hope to continue playing and to succeed in doing so. All in all, if music had not been a part of my life, I don't think I would have any other talents that would motivate me as much as fiddling does.

-- spring 2002

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