In the first iteration of their 2019-2020 Arts In Education series, Darke County Center for the Arts took The Fitzgeralds — masterful fiddling, step-dancing siblings Julie, Kerry, and Tom plus their multi-talented guitar-playing friend Kyle Waymouth — to all local high schools last week, introducing area students to Canadian culture and music. Who knew that culture could be so warm and welcoming, music so energizing, and a performance so much fun!
After opening with a rollicking tune that drew thunderous applause, Kerry explained that her family came from the small town of Bancroft, Ontario, Canada, where there’s not much to do except play hockey and make music—so that’s what they grew up doing, taking music lessons on several instruments and entering fiddling and dancing competitions, with Tom winning the title of Canadian Grand Master Champion as a first-time competitor in 2012 and Julie becoming a two-time Canadian Grand Masters Fiddle Champion as well as earning the Canadian Open Step Dance Championship. In spite of those lofty achievements, the siblings seemed to look upon their ability to nimbly create mesmerizing performances as no big deal, just something one does, like breathing.
They are, in their low-key Canadian way, proud of their Ottawa Valley roots with its blend of Irish, Scottish, and French cultures. Their abundant energy and awe-inspiring talents instantly captured the audience’s attention, and their charming personalities kept the students engaged and involved throughout the amazing performance. The students were urged to loudly support their favorite when Julie and Kerry demonstrated their competitive spirits during a dance-off in which speed and complexity constantly heightened; Kerry ultimately won the contest after donning a jersey bearing the logo of the host school, thereby garnering a stupendous ovation from the appreciative partisan crowd.
Julie stated that, while remaining true to their musical roots, the siblings continue to grow and evolve as musicians, expanding their repertoire and playing a variety of styles. She explained that a fiddle and a violin are the exact same instrument; however, the style of music being played on that instrument determines the nomenclature. A beautiful strain of classical music was played on the violin followed by some bluegrass fiddling, offering a glimpse of the breadth of highly listenable sounds that can be coaxed from one instrument.
As students clapped in rhythm, Tom sang a delightful traditional bluegrass tune, accompanied by Julie on fiddle and Kerry playing a bass ukulele, a much smaller and easier-to-travel-with instrument than a stand-up bass. Their apparent ease with a variety of instruments and any musical genre reinforced the concept that music is simply a component of human life, as well as the fact that, for The Fitzgeralds, the ability to share the joy and power of music is a calling.
The Fitzgeralds had in the past toured as a family band with their parents and older brother Pat, and in another configuration with Pat as the drummer. When he left the band for a new career, Pat left his drumsticks, which his siblings integrated into their act in a performance highlight with the sticks playing a pivotal role. In addition to the tricky stick moves, this seated dance was enhanced by foot-percussion provided by the enthusiastic audience who performed their part with a flourish. (It was during this section of the show that a student seated in the second row was heard to exclaim, “This is so cool!”)
After The Fitzgeralds performed lovely and lively music composed and arranged by Kerry, they asked for questions and chatted about their lives and their music as though with a group of friends. Another spectacular number ended the concert, wherein in addition to the “ordinary” impressive fiddling and dancing, Kerry played her fiddle up-side-down, then Julie smoothly moved her fiddle from her right to her left, exchanging the hands that fingered the keys and stroked the bow. Next, Julie added a second fiddle under her chin and continued fingering both while her siblings took care of the bowing — all this activity was accomplished without missing a beat while the audience happily clapped their hands, stomped their feet, and bounced around.
And so, that’s what cultural enrichment looks like! Who knew?
Marilyn Delk is a director of the Darke County Center for the Arts and can be reached at email@example.com. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.