The New Hampshire Fiddle Ensemble – a Transcendent Experience

I love music, and especially enjoy the strings. In my life so far, I’ve played guitar, banjo, flute, recorder, and just recently, ukulele. Mind you, I haven’t played them well at all, but I love them, and am currently taking ukulele lessons.

We spent the evening of April 11 enjoying the *New Hampshire Fiddle Ensemble in Exeter, NH. The musicians were people of all ages; as young as five and some as old as 84. The stage was crowded with fiddles, two big harps, guitars, banjos, a bass, a cello, mandolins, and a few ukuleles. The sound was magnificent! Everyone on stage was dressed in jeans and colorful vests, and the energy they had made it seem as though they are a big family. They played bluegrass, old country songs, Irish reels, folk songs, rock and roll, Scottish airs, early swing and ragtime and even a few old cowboy tunes. Many people sang along, and that was great, too.

What was most amazing to me was finding out that there is NO sheet music on stage–none. Everyone in the ensemble is plays by ear and memory. This is the old way of learning music, when tunes were played in families, memorized, and passed down through the generations. This amazing ensemble is coached by the incomparable **Ellen Carlson, who has performed on fiddle for over 30 years. Among other things, she is a member of the New Hampshire Council on the Arts, Artist in Education Program. Her desire is to “inspire people of all ages to play and to learn to enjoy the many facets of fiddling as well as making music together.”

As she explained during the concert, rehearsals involve a lot of “here; listen to this–now play it” sessions. When I think of the “paper-training” I went through early on–trying to figure out how to make the sheet music translate into actual music, and then singing in three different choruses in college (also using sheet music), it was hard to wrap my head around this simple but effective approach. But think of it–if the music’s in your head, you don’t need a sheet in front of you! Personally, I can’t read music; I never could. But I quickly learned by ear, and I don’t think that any of my choir directors ever caught on.

So, to hear all this amazing music and see the faces of the musicians as they reacted to it–to see how free they were to enjoy what they were playing (again, not hampered by sheet music)–well, it just knocked me out. As my own musical MO is to memorize chords as fast as I can, then memorize the sequence of them in the songs I want to play (and sing), this really resonated with me.

I have to say that this concert, with its friendly and welcoming feel, really captured all that is good about making music together. Please check out the web sites listed below for more information.

*Check them out on


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