Each week in Fort Smith, a group of budding fiddlers gathers to learn some folksy tunes, share some laughs and play their hearts out.
Around eight students regularly show up to a fiddling class taught by Bart Hartop, one of the Fort Smith Fiddlers.
The fiddling class started last fall when the Fort Smith Fiddlers were given a grant from the NWT Arts Society to the tune of $3,500 to share their fiddling knowledge with the community. Hartop was chosen to lead the class at Aurora College’s Thebacha campus on Monday evenings.
“The goal is to keep the traditional skills going amongst the young people in particular to pass it on. That’s what we are trying to do: interest them and get them away from the iPods and computers,” Hartop said.
While the program focuses on youth, the class is open to all ages at a $5 drop-in fee. Participants without a fiddle can borrow one of four donated by the college.
“We fiddle around with a bit of classical music, too. Most of the people who come are classically trained,” Hartop said, adding that many classical music pieces historically fused with fiddling tunes.
Up to two weeks ago, Hartop had been playing songs along with the students, but a recent arm injury has put his wing in a sling and will keep him from playing the fiddle for some time, he said.
“When I get this wing fixed up, I can go through it with you,” Hartop told the class last week, holding up his arm wrapped in a cast and sling.
Despite this setback, the class was a lively lesson for the four students who showed. Hartop arranged the class so that the more experienced fiddlers were able to lead the newer ones in some of the more challenging diddies.
Naomi Rhymer was encouraged to watch as her brother, Joel, played You are my Sunshine on his fiddle, slowly so she could mimic his finger positioning and learn to play it herself. After only 15 minutes, the young girl hit all the right notes.
Hartop said the children learn music quickly, much faster than an adult learning for the first time, but that shouldn’t discourage beginners from coming out. He added that even the newest of musicians will probably learn at least a simple tune by the end of the hour-long class.
The fiddlers covered several songs over the hour, including the Snow Waltz and Wildwood Flower, the latter being a well known, old timey polka tune in fiddling circles.
Hartop taught the class to harmonize by getting the more advanced students to play a song with the full note progression, while the newer fiddlers played the less-difficult harmony.
Hartop said fiddling is not only a fun activity, but an important exercise for the brain.
“I personally believe that playing an instrument is healthy. It helps work the brain. It helps memory. You can see little Naomi here is catching on so fast. The kids really go quick,” he said.
Morgan Dumkee, a saxophone musician and student at PWK high school, has been a regular at the fiddling classes since they started last fall.
“It’s fun and it always changes based on who’s here,” he said.
Hartop’s fiddling class is held at Aurora College Thebacha campus in room 116 every Monday at 7:00 p.m.