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Two are sharing joy of fiddling

By Jan Jarvis
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
Sunday, Jul. 17, 2005
Reprinted with permission

For the Freedom Fiddlers, performing during Arlington’s Fourth of July Parade is often a liberating experience.

Without sheet music or strict rules, the young fiddle players are free to discover the joy of performing, said Aleta Caraway, an Arlington orchestra teacher.

“The young kids think they can’t do this without sheet music, but they realize they can,” she said. “They realize that fiddles are really fun.”

It’s a lesson that Caraway and Julia Gray-Lion, also an Arlington orchestra teacher, have taught to dozens of young musicians since 1999, when they founded the Freedom Fiddlers. The group is made up of orchestra students ages 10 to 18 who are regulars in the July Fourth parade. They often win awards for their performance, including a first-place trophy this year.

Freedom Fiddlers began with about 25 students. Today, it has more than 150 from throughout the community. So many students want to perform that a second group, the Texas Heritage String Band, was added.

Freedom Fiddlers began as a way for Caraway and Gray-Lion to inspire their students to enjoy music and encourage them to practice during the summer.

“I think it gives joy of life,” said Caraway, who also plays with a country band.

Gray-Lion said playing the fiddle is too much fun not to share. Fiddle music appeals to students because it is more relaxed than classical music, which demands perfection, she said.

“With classical music you’re trying to reproduce exactly what has been heard before,” she said. “With fiddle music you take someone’s idea and make it your own.”

It’s not just fun but also a different kind of learning, Caraway said.

“When you learn by memory, it is stored in a different part of the brain than when you learn by reading music,” she said. “It makes for a well-rounded musician.”

Dalton Suarez, 14, said performing with the Freedom Fiddlers as well as in the orchestra has helped him become more confident and enjoy performing. In class and during the summer, Gray-Lion makes learning how to play music fun, he said.

“Everybody should have a teacher like that,” he said.

Gray-Lion and Caraway discovered fiddle music early. Caraway’s grandfather was a fiddler, and after she finished college she taped him playing. Learning to play music from memory rather than sheet music was a chore, but she stuck with it, she said.

“It was a way of connecting with my heritage, which is one of the things we try to pass on to the children,” she said. “It’s a way of making heritage real to the kids.”

Gray-Lion’s father played the piano, and she took violin, then viola, lessons. In high school, she learned fiddle tunes for the fun of it.

Inspired by teachers who encouraged them to play, the women wanted to do the same for another generation of musicians.

Playing an instrument helps students develop discipline and other skills that can make a difference in their lives, Caraway said.

“This is my way of giving back,” she said. “I want to give my kids a skill that if they want to, they can enjoy the rest of their lives.”


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