Calvin Vollrath is widely considered “Canada’s Fiddling Sensation,” and his love for fiddle music began at a very early age.
“My father was a fiddle player, so that’s what we heard in my house, and lots of times, kids, they want to be like their dad, and I just wanted to play the fiddle,” he said, phoning from the road last week as he drove to a concert in Salmon Arm. “I can remember, I might have been three years old or something, I can remember way back, sitting beside him with two butter knives pretending I was a fiddle player. It was just always what I wanted to be.”
Vollrath’s father, Art “Lefty” Vollrath, developed his own reputation as a great fiddler and passed on the family tradition.
Vollrath remembers his house was always filled with fiddle music. He was raised on Don Messer’s Jubilee, and at the age of eight, he received his first fiddle. It was soon apparent he was a natural. At 13, Vollrath entered his first fiddle contest, and at the age of 17, he was already winning the Championship class. Vollrath was twice crowned the Grand North American Old Tyme Fiddle Champion.
“It’s just always been a passion in my life,” said Vollrath. “I love to play, and I’ve made my living at it all my life. I love being on stage and entertaining people.”
To date, Vollrath has composed close to 700 fiddle tunes, many of which have become standard contest and dance tunes across North America and Europe, according to his website.
Vollrath’s influence in the fiddle world is very evident. He has to his credit 69 of his own albums, numerous music books of his original compositions and an instructional DVD. He was commissioned to compose five fiddle tunes for the Vancouver Winter Olympics 2010 Opening Ceremonies to represent the various styles of fiddling our country has to offer. He also wrote the theme for the international fiddle convention “Fiddles of the World,” held in Halifax, N.S., in July 1999.
“I’ve got melodies running through my mind 24 hours a day,” Vollrath said, adding with a laugh: “It’s a gift and it’s a curse at the same time. If I wake up in the middle of the night with a melody running through my head, I’m not getting back to sleep until I get it finished.”
Vollrath is also very active in the teaching aspect of fiddle music, and he is touted by the Saskatchewan Cultural Exchange Society as one of the driving forces behind the revitalization of fiddle music. Calvin has taught at the Canadian Grand Masters Fiddle Camp in Ottawa since its inception in 1996. In 2007, he started his own camp in northeast Alberta, “Camp Calvin.” He also teaches at numerous workshops throughout Canada and the United States.
“I don’t read music — I’m self-taught — but back in the 1980s, I got hired to teach at a fiddle camp,” he recalls. “It was the first fiddle camp in Canada, at Emma Lake, Sask., and I wasn’t sure I was able to teach anybody anything because I didn’t know what I was doing. As it turned out, I was able to teach my class something, and I’ve been teaching since 1988 at fiddle camps across Canada and the United States.”
Vollrath says he doesn’t have a lot of private lessons at home because of his touring schedule, but he enjoys teaching in group settings.
In August 2005, Vollrath received the Lifetime Achievement Award from The Canadian Grand Masters Fiddling Championship in recognition and appreciation of his outstanding contribution to Old Time Fiddling. For his contribution, support and dedicated years of promoting and playing country music, Vollrath was presented with another Lifetime Achievement Award from the Alberta Men of Country Music in 2007, and he received the Bev Munro Award in 2009, sponsored by the Association of Canadian Country Music Legends. In 2011, Vollrath was inducted into the North American Fiddlers Hall of Fame in New York State.
Vollrath brings his passion for fiddle music to Quesnel this Friday (Oct. 4). He will perform at 7 p.m. at the Royal Canadian Legion Hall with piano and accordion player Jeremy Rusu and step dancer Rhea Labrie.
Tickets are $20 and are available at the Legion Lounge or at Circle “S” Western Wear, by contacting Jean at 250-922-5081 or online at calvinvollrath.com/tickets.
This concert is being presented by the B.C. Old Time Fiddlers’ Association Branch 3 and Calvin Vollrath Music.