The excitement is palpable as preparations are in full swing for this year’s spring concert by the Vermont Fiddle Orchestra at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 13, at the Barre Opera House. The 45 members are readying themselves for an ambitious program of traditional music as well as compositions by David Kaynor and guest performers, the Pressley Girls.
This year’s concert will feature two rising stars of traditional music, the Pressley Girls, twins Kate and Corie, who hail from Brasstown, North Carolina. It will also be a special thank-you concert for Kaynor, who has been the VFO’s director for a number of years.
The members of the orchestra are primed to make this concert the best they’ve ever played. As VFO board president Molly Backup put it, “This concert is a celebration of his musicality and a tribute to his wonderful personality.”
Music is an important component of the cultural life of Vermont. The VFO is a community orchestra of musicians who, said Backup, “enjoy learning, playing and sharing the traditional fiddle music of New England, Appalachia, down South, Quebecois, Swedish, Irish, Scottish and other styles.”
Now in its 16th year, The VFO also plays contemporary fiddle music and has an ever-expanding repertoire of tunes by Vermont composers, including some members of the orchestra.
The VFO is open to all ages and abilities without audition. Members pay a $75 fee per season. Members are of all ages, from teens to players in their late 70s. They bring a varying skill level from beginners to professional soloists and fiddle contest winners.
While a fiddle-based orchestra, the VFO is not limited to fiddlers. On stage at the BOH concert will be violas, guitars, cellos, along with bass, banjo, mandolin, flute, pennywhistle, recorder and accordion players.
At this year’s concert the orchestra will play a variety of styles from old-time, Scandinavian, Irish, and Quebecois traditions. This is dance music that includes waltzes and schottisches among others. Several selections were composed by Kaynor and other members of the orchestra.
“Part of what we do,” Backup explained, “is learning and playing and performing. We want to share the fiddle tradition and keep that alive with the public.”
While the orchestra rehearses in Montpelier on Wednesday evenings, members come from a variety of Vermont towns to participate in the music-making. Players from St. Albans, Northfield, Charlotte, Woodstock, Morrisville and the Hero Islands have joined.
Dakota Rudloff-Eastman is participating in her first VFO concert. She is 23, from Hardwick, and joined in January.
“I’ve played music my whole life and just graduated from Sterling College,” she said. “The impetus to join was an avenue to play music with others. I needed to find a musical family again.”
Rudloff-Eastman said she enjoys the diverse group of ages and abilities in the VFO.
“I appreciate that it’s more formal than a jam session and more orchestral.” She likes the structure of the VFO “where we work together as a group.”
This millennial appreciates “learning the ropes from your elders.” For her, learning tunes from the people who have been playing longer than she has “is a big plus.”
“It’s fun, it’s a wonderful place where everyone has a chance to stretch themselves in a safe environment,” fiddler Nora Skolnick said. “There’s something for everybody and a comfortable place where everyone can play and grow. It also gives me an excuse to practice.”
She praised Kaynor for the music he chooses. “He does an amazing job of picking a variety of tunes and traditions. They are beautiful and fun to play.”
Andrew Jackson, from Montpelier, plays guitar with the orchestra. “I started playing in 2016, I enjoyed it, and I stuck around,” he said.
“I really like that particular genre, dance and fiddle music,” Jackson said. “It’s really fun. The atmosphere of the orchestra and the support of people at all levels of skill are welcoming. There is a sense of family or community as we all support each other.”
This year’s guest musicians, the Pressley Girls, were happy to carve time out of their busy performance schedule to join the VFO for this concert. They are friends of Kaynor, who has visited them in North Carolina. Two YouTube videos from 2018 have Kaynor and the Pressleys playing together in concert and at an informal picking party.
The Pressley Girls are twins born and raised in Brasstown. They are an authentic Appalachian duet that focuses on tight harmony and lyrical meaning. They perform a wide range of music including folk, bluegrass, gospel and country. Corie Pressley plays the guitar and mandolin while singing harmony with her sister, Katie, who plays the fiddle and piano while singing lead. Both are clog dancers.
This is a special concert for the VFO because, as Backup points out, “We don’t usually play in Barre.” Beyond that, admission to the concert at the opera house is by donation, which should make attendance easily accessible to anyone in the community.