Reviving Lamar Fiddle

Cuts on specialty music class prompt Mac students to pass on their love of bluegrass tradition to new generation


Isabella Lorenzini

Smith gathers Lamar Fiddlers Violet Lee, Zachary Fisher, Alessandra Lorenzini, Eleanor Klein and Mara Beiersdorf.

Kate Boyle, co-print managing editor & co-news editor

In 2019, the Lamar Middle School fiddle group, which had strengthened junior Ingrid Smith’s love of violin and provided her with a tight-knit group of friends, disbanded. After director Tara Kizer left, Lamar Orchestra faced many changes, including the loss of specialty music classes like fiddle. 

I’m honestly not sure if I would still play violin if not for Lamar Fiddle. I decided that it was my duty to bring Lamar Fiddle back.

— junior Ingrid Smith

This year, budget cuts forced McCallum orchestra directors Ricky Pringle and Erika Elder to take over the Lamar Orchestra, teaching and directing all the orchestra classes at both schools. The increase in classes that Elder and Pringle had to take on made adding the fiddle group back to Lamar nearly impossible, but Smith was determined to revive the program that had inspired much of her musical passion. 

“I’m honestly not sure if I would still play the violin if not for Lamar Fiddle,” Smith said. “I decided that it was my duty to bring Lamar Fiddle back.”

Smith reached out to Elder and asked if she would be willing to sponsor the club. Elder agreed and plans were set in motion.

“The fiddle group is the brainchild of Ingrid Smith,” Elder said. “Ingrid really wanted to find a way to give this opportunity to the current Lamar orchestra students, and I wanted to support her and find a way to make that a reality.” 

Smith enlisted fellow fiddle player sophomore Bella Lorenzini to help lead the club, and the two shot a promo video to present to Lamar Orchestra. Then they waited for responses on a Google form they sent out to gather interest. 

Eighth-grader Zachary Fisher plays fiddle with fellow Lamar student Violet Lee (Kate Boyle).

“We had a bunch of people respond,” Smith said. “Apparently there was a lot of interest. It was cool because Ms. Elder had told me that some of the students were asking why the form wasn’t working because apparently we had made a mistake, and there was enough interest that they had brought that up, which was awesome. One student even filled out the form like three times, which was really cool.”

The group meets every Tuesday at 5 p.m. in the McCallum orchestra room. On the first day, five students showed up, a surprising but exciting number for Smith and Lorenzini. 

“I was interested because I thought it would be fun to play that type of music,” eighth-grader Zachary Fisher said.

Violin and fiddle players use the same instrument, but they use different techniques to create different sounds. The group experiments with reading music, memorization, solos and even choreography.

I think that they [Smith and Lorenzini] teach it in an open way

— eighth-grader Zachary Fisher

“In my mind, violin can get a little bit stuffy sometimes,” Smith said. “There are a lot of rules you have to follow. Fiddle, on the other hand, allows you to be creative, and just have fun. It’s danceable, it’s lively. It has everything from improv to double stops, western swing, bluegrass, Old-Time Texas style, a lot of Celtic. There are just so many styles you can explore, and it teaches you to use your instrument in a different way which is really valuable as a violinist.”

Lorenzini also recognizes the flexibility that comes with playing the fiddle. 

“Fiddle is generally more informal than an orchestra,” Lorenzini said. “There’s a host of the jam session, and there are hardened senior players, but aside from that no one takes the role of a ‘conductor.’ Our little club is very different from traditional fiddling, but we try to bring in certain classical elements of fiddling like learning how to do chops, playing with guitar and learning by ear.”

For Smith, the transition going from student to teacher has been an exciting challenge. 

“I’m used to being the person who just has to do a good job of listening and repeating,” Smith said. “I have to be the teacher here. You have to deal with the students who have fears like ‘I don’t want to memorize things. I’m too scared.’ ‘I don’t want to count us off. I’m too scared.’ ‘I don’t want to do choreography. I’m too scared.’”

Over the past few months, however, Smith believes she has “cracked the code.”

Group members learn most of their music by ear, hearing Smith or Lorenzini play first, and then playing themselves (Kate Boyle).

“I figured out that the secret is just becoming their friend,” Smith said. “I mean, I know about their favorite books, their favorite music. I know they went to the Harry Styles concert. I know they do dance. I know why Lamar was getting a new dance portable. It’s really fun just to hear these things about a school that I care about through their eyes.”

Fisher has also recognized Smith’s gradual change in teaching style. 

“I think that they [Smith and Lorenzini] teach it in an open way,” Fisher said. “I think that that is a good idea for something like this, learning fiddle in an open way.”

Although she has taught her students many things, Smith also feels that she’s learned from the experience. 

“It’s kind of taught me the power of optimism,” Smith said. “It’s very hard to be a leader where you’re dealing with people who are younger than you, and they have these fears. You have to not be strict and negative because they don’t respond well to that at all. You have to just be optimistic and show them that this is a thing that is awesome.”

I hope what Ingrid and I have been doing is helping to broaden the Lamar kids’ musical perspectives, or at least letting them have some fun.

— sophomore Bella Lorenzini

As far as future goals, the group hopes to perform a public gig somewhere.  

“I definitely want to do more performances,” Smith said. “I want to encourage choreography, kind of like what I did in Lamar Fiddle when I was in it.”

Smith draws a lot of inspiration from her former fiddle teacher, Kizer.

“One thing that’s really cool is over the winter break I went to St. Louis where my old Lamar Fiddle teacher moved,” Smith said. “We had dinner and just talked about everything that’s been going on in our lives since, and I told her everything about the fiddle group which was amazing, and she told me about her fiddle group called Strolling Strings, which is a much bigger operation because, you know, the group meets more than once a week and she has a lot of students.”

In meeting up with Kizer, Smith decided she wanted to try and add others to the group, and this semester the group welcomed a cellist and violist. 

“[Kizer’s] group is going to come to Austin in June, and we’re thinking about meeting up and doing a performance together and maybe a masterclass,” Smith said. “And so her fiddle group can sort of work with my fiddle group, which means a lot to me because she is such an inspiration to me as a fiddler.”

As well as keeping an eye out for future performances and planning choreography, Smith and Lorenzini strive to continue to expand the program and spread their love for fiddling.

It is also so good for young musicians to get out of their comfort zone and learn all types of music on their instruments. It will always make them stronger musicians and in turn, make the Lamar orchestra program stronger as well.

— orchestra director Erika Elder

“Fiddle is a very different style of music with a wonderful culture behind it,” Lorenzini said. “I love both classical and fiddle, but fiddle exposed me to another world of music and allowed me to have many wonderful experiences. I hope what Ingrid and I have been doing is helping to broaden the Lamar kids’ musical perspectives, or at least letting them have some fun.”

Smith hopes her version of Lamar Fiddle can have a positive impact on students in the same way that Kizer’s had an impact on her. Elder believes the program will be a great way for students to transition from middle school to high school orchestra programs. 

“I think it’s important for the Lamar students to have an opportunity to bond with McCallum students and get to know the campus and the culture here at McCallum since a lot of them will end up here when they graduate Lamar,” Elder said. “It is also so good for young musicians to get out of their comfort zone and learn all types of music on their instruments. It will always make them stronger musicians and, in turn, make the Lamar orchestra program stronger as well.”