From Classical Violin to Folkways Fiddling

Posted: March 5, 2008

Growing up with parents who are both classically trained musicians, Andrea Asprelli '08 has always had music in her life. Her father plays classical guitar and her mother teaches piano and voice, and she started taking violin lessons at age five. But her musical interests took a turn at age 16, when she traveled to the Shetland Islands in Great Britain with a school group. There she first heard Irish fiddle music and figured out how to play some of the tunes.

Back in Denver, she was walking through a street mall one day and came upon a woman busker playing Scottish fiddle. Asprelli stopped to chat with her, and ended up arranging to take fiddle lessons from her. It wasn't easy making the adjustment from playing classical violin from a printed score. "I knew my way around the instrument very well, but I didn't know what to do if the music wasn't written out." Her fiddle teacher told her to "take your classical technique and rub it over with sandpaper" to get the "old-timey fiddle sound." She kept up her classical music, playing violin in the College orchestra during her first two years at Mount Holyoke. In her spare time, she worked on folk fiddling.

Ironically, it was during Asprelli's junior year in England that she was introduced to American folk music by a couple of young British students who were passionate about American folk musicians such as Woody Guthrie and early Bob Dylan. When she returned to the States she put an ad on Craig's List offering her fiddling services, and through this connection played with a variety of musicians. She also attended music jams all across the country, including jams specifically for bluegrass.

After returning to Mount Holyoke in September 2007, Asprelli hooked up with a group called Appalachian Still based in Northampton, that plays a mix of old time, folk, and bluegrass music. The group plays regularly at regional festivals, parties, and clubs around New England, including a recent gig at the Iron Horse in Northampton opening for Tony Trischka at a Habitat for Humanity benefit. They host shows at the WWII Club in Northampton the first and third Saturdays of the month. She likes touring around New England, discovering small towns and villages. "I spent two and a half years living in Massachusetts and not knowing what was beyond the Five College bus route," she said.

Asprelli enjoys the creative aspects of folk and bluegrass that she missed in classical violin. "Being self-taught is so much better," she said. "You find your way from this to this." She doubts she'll go back to playing classical violin. Her taste for folk music has rubbed off on her father, who now plays around with folk guitar as well as classical. She's even convinced her mother to take up mandolin.

Asprelli will graduate this spring with a major in philosophy and a minor in culture, health, and science. Ultimately, she is considering a profession in the field of medical ethics and public health. In the meanwhile, however, she plans to move to Austin, Texas, in September to be part of the growing music scene there. "I think I'll find a large array of different musicians to play with. I still have a lot to learn, and the best way I can think to do that is to be exposed to what's out there and learn from people who are passionate about what they're doing. I'm excited to travel, collaborate with other musicians, learn new styles, and just see where it takes me."

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