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High school fiddlers play with MSU Philharmonic

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

MSU Philharmonic Orchestra director Raphael Jimenez usually doesn’t conduct in a cowboy hat. But for one night, the orchestra embraced a country twang for a joint concert with the Fiddlers ReStrung on Jan. 31 at Fairchild Theater.

The Fiddlers ReStrung, a group of string players from Saline High School, was founded by string educator and composer, Bob Phillips when he was a music teacher at Saline. As a teacher, Phillips included “alternative styles,” of music, meaning anything-non classical, into his teaching repertoire.

“As a double bass player, I’ve been thrown into every ensemble possible. My background as a musician is eclectic and I took that into the classroom,” Phillips said. “Fiddlers ReStrung grew organically out of the fact that I was teaching and kids thought it would be cool to start a group. They wanted to play, perform and explore improvisation.”

MSU music education senior Cori Smith serves as the artistic director for Fiddlers ReStrung, or as she says, “It is more of a calling.” Smith began in the group in high school under the direction of Phillips and went on to a performing career for two years, touring the United States and Canada. After Smith enrolled at MSU, Phillips retired and she was offered the position.

Fiddlers ReStrung focuses on preserving fiddle music, serving the community, and promoting positive qualities of young adults. “The students have respect for all walks of life,” Smith said. “We played at a school for children with autism and (my students) got a chance to see what life is like for their peers in different situations. It is really important for (my students) to see what they do for other people’s lives. They are very mature kids.”

Being dedicated to an instrument that typically draws an older crowd, Saline High School senior and cello player Catherine Noble was happy for the opportunity to collaborate with MSU students. “It is good for us because we don’t get to play with college students very often,” Noble said. “It’s cool to play with people closer to our age.”

Smith is also a member of the MSU Philharmonic Orchestra, under the direction of Jimenez.

Earlier in the year, Jimenez instructed the Fiddlers in a workshop and then suggested that the two groups perform together. He said the contrast between two such different musical styles creates an opportunity to promote and cultivate folk music, which is traditionally American.

“The world is a tapestry made out of many different colors,” Jimenez said. “It is through music that those colors can be preserved. It would be awful to have one single planet that is just grey.” With this kind of inclusion in mind, Jimenez invited Smith to perform together and “unite two things in one concert.”

First the orchestra played a suite from the ballet “Billy the Kid” and selections from “Pops Hoe-Down,” including “Pop Goes the Weasel” and “Turkey in the Straw.” Fiddlers ReStrung then took the stage in black and red studded uniforms and played three tunes featuring individual solos. A few students incorporated square dancing into the performance.

It was on the last song, “Orange Blossom Special” that the two groups united their unique sounds in a joint performance.

Smith gave her cowboy hat to Jimenez as he conducted the orchestra though the piece. With the crescendo of the final note, Jimenez raised his hat and the audience erupted into applause. Getting into the American folk music sprit, the audience even let go a few, “Yee-haws.”

“To me, heritage is extremely important,” Jimenez said. “What makes us different is what makes this world wonderful. I think it is extremely important to cultivate and promote differences. This concert is a way to show that we have cool stuff here in the U.S. and we should learn more about it.”

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