Calvin is the driving force behind the revitalization of fiddle music.
Saskatchewan Cultural Exchange Society
Shetland Fiddlers in State of Shock
Shetland Fiddle Enthusiasts were recently treated to an incredible weekend of music at the hands of virtuoso Canadian Fiddle player Calvin Vollrath and his band. Calvin who hails from St Paul, Alberta, visited the Shetland Isles on the return leg of a Scandinavian tour taking in Norway, Sweden and Finland. Calvin was accompanied by his wife Rhea Labrie, a wonderful step dancer, who?s lightning fast foot work had the audiences amazed and shouting for more. Also his regular backing band of Trent Bruner on piano and Freddie Pelletier, playing his vintage 1909 acoustic guitar provided Calvin with first-rate accompaniment.
Calvin played at four sell out concerts in the Isles where he stunned audiences with his incredible expertise and total command of the instrument. Some local fiddle player are still said to be in shock, while others are threatening to burn their beloved instruments, such was the impression he made.
The different styles of music Calvin plays is just what Shetland listeners want to hear, ranging from beautiful haunting slow airs to high speed novelty numbers like the Orange Blossom Special, with plenty of reels, jigs, swing and the beautiful Canadian waltzes, of which he is a master, using the double stopping technique. Most of the tunes he played were his own compositions, and mostly different sets for each concert, what a repertoire.
The highlight of the weekend was a trip to the Cullivoe Hall on the island of Yell, which involved a 90-minute bus journey and a 15-minute ferry crossing, excellent live entertainment was provided on the journey by Calvin, Freddie and local musicians. The audience in Cullivoe were really in the mood for Calvin giving him a standing ovation and a further three encores, when he tried to leave the stage after a brilliant show.
The tour was rounded off on Sunday with an afternoon concert in Lerwick, followed by a jamming session with local fiddlers, guitar players and piano players at a house party hosted by a couple who had played a big part in the musical success of the weekend.
People are already asking when they are coming over again, they have made a big impression on Shetland, not only as expert musicians, but also as really lovely people, and we sincerely hope this is the first visit of many.
Fiddles of fire ignite Festival Place stage
Edmonton Journal, March 27, 2000
Vollrath serves up his own folk fest in one fun evening.After a succession of annually sold-out concerts, the question that lingers following Calvin Vollrath's latest triumph is this. Will the fabulous fiddler consider expanding his traditional spring concert to two nights? As is always the case, Festival Place was sold out weeks in advance of Vollrath's CD Release concert this past Saturday night, making one think that the selling of an additional night wouldn't be that much of a gamble.
Maybe it's the logistics of keeping all of Vollrath's musical guests - who come from points all accross the country - around for an extra day that hinders adding an extra show. Whatever the reason, it certainly is easy to understand why tickets are so scarce shortly after they go on sale every year.
To reiterate past observations of this marvellous event, Vollrath serves up in the space of two 75-minute sets, a real slice of musical Canadiana that in essence is basically a small festival fuelled by fiddlers. Armed with a batch of original pieces all built on folk traditions, the prolific composer and recording artist delightfully sailed through an expansive program.
It's one that comprises waltzes, jigs, swing tunes, inspirational pieced, reels and melodies influenced by classical European forms.
Whether is was the fired-up jump of his Bob Wills-influenced Skin Boy Rag, or the delicately delivered melody he played while accompanying the eight dancers known as Les Tourbillons, as they gracefully slid through an old-time pattern dance, Vollrath continually found the mark as an artist and entertainer.
To try and keep the toes from tapping when he and his fine band turned up the heat via his Horseshoes Up My Arcand Jig would have been an excersice in frustration.
By the same token, when Vollrath slowed things down on a couple of occassions, New Millenium Waltz and Melika spring to mind, it was his superior technical skills and the emotional outpourings of the piece that immediately brought a hush to the concert hall.
Then there's Vollrath's expressive body English that acts as bursts of punctuation to his melody lines and choruses, in addition to his ability to converse with his audience in a sincere and often humorous manner that gives the entire event a real down-home feel. Having all the basics covered, he also shared the stage with a band of musicians who played their way through the pieces with an understated confidence. Freddie Pelletier rang the bell with a couple of seamless guitar solos, and his wife Shiela Lytle even joined the affair, giving the first set some vocal sparkle with a rendition of Jesse Coulter's '70s country hit, I'm Not Lisa.
All this was just a sliver of what was presented in what is always one of the annual root-music highlights of the year.
From the magazine "Strings" http://www.allthingsstrings.com/By Matt Sircely posted January 2012
Country Dance Fiddle Tune from Western Canada
Calvin Vollrath is on a roll. His recent induction into the North American Fiddlers Hall of Fame augments a long line of credits and awards. With more than 50 recordings and 400 compositions to his name, Vollrath composed “Fiddle Nation” to showcase Canada’s regional styles in a single medley at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics Opening Ceremony.
Nevertheless, Vollrath still considers himself a country boy from northern Alberta.
Evidently, for Vollrath, being a simple country boy means mastering old-time dance styles from the Alberta plains, a repertoire ranging from waltzes and polkas to two-steps and swinging Texas-derived fox-trots. Vollrath is also one of the foremost exponents of the indigenous Métis style, among the most complex traditional fiddle music on the continent, derived from similar roots as other North American fiddle styles, but laden with odd measures and offbeat accents after centuries of development in isolation.
Vollrath himself is in a perpetual state of musical evolution, known for incorporating double-stops and innovative harmonies into Canadian old-time fiddle tunes. Winner of the 1985 Grand North American Old Tyme Fiddle Championship, Vollrath competed in his first contest at age 13 when there were only two youngsters on the stage. Now, as an instructor at music camps across Canada, including at his own camp, Vollrath is helping to rekindle a new generation of players.
In his younger days, Calvin Vollrath played dances every weekend for halls packed with 500 dancers in the Edmonton area. “Fiddle music was really about dancing many years ago,” he says.
His fiddling father, Art “Lefty” Vollrath, told him to always watch the best dancers. “You’ll see them in the waltzes — they kind of look like barley waving in the wind. And on the fox-trots, they like a good time,” he says. “They’ll set your tempo, and it helps your bowing.”
Today, local dances attract only a few dozen attendees each month. “Young [fiddlers], especially in our area, don’t have the chance to play for dances anymore,” Vollrath says. “They’re not really getting their own identity.”
Passing on a Tradition
But Vollrath sets a glowing example, practicing and composing in between fiddle camp classes, his instantly distinguishable voluminous tone resonating beyond the classroom walls, often with creative double-stops and contrapuntal explorations. One of his students, 24-year-old Daniel Gervais from Vollrath’s hometown of St. Paul, Alberta, claimed first place at the 2011 Canadian Grand Masters Fiddling Competition. His winning set included Vollrath’s version of “Lover’s Waltz” by Alberta fiddle legend Frankie Rodgers.
“Lover’s Waltz,” is largely typical of the country waltzes that have been common at dances in Western Canada for decades. But Rodgers was an early Canadian innovator, composing tunes such as the popular “Ookpik Waltz” until he passed away in 2009. “His title was King of the Country Fiddlers, playing with double-stops way back in the ’50s and ’60s,” Vollrath says. “He was way ahead of his time for a Canadian fiddle player.
“Lover’s Waltz’ had a diminished chord in it. Nobody even knew what a diminished chord was, but it was kind of fancy,” Vollrath adds, with a smile. “It kind of sounded like rock ’n’ roll.”
One year at a fiddle camp, Vollrath’s love of double-stop harmonies landed him alongside Buddy Spicher and they performed four-part lines together on such tunes as “Cherokee,” which eventually resulted in a Nashville collaboration entitled Air Mail Special. “It was a great experience for a little ole country boy from northern Alberta,” he says.
As Vollrath explains, the sound of country pedal steel guitar drove his love of double-stop harmonization. Once, he met pedal steel legend Bud Isaacs, whose 1954 intro on “Slowly,” by country legend Webb Pierce, established the modern concept of pedal steel accompaniment. Isaacs told Vollrath that he had originally tried to emulate the sound of three fiddles. Vollrath replied that he was trying to sound like a pedal steel. “So it came full circle,” he says.
Organizers for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics called upon Vollrath to compose a medley for the opening ceremony, which he performed alongside many of Canada’s most prominent fiddlers. Starting in the Quebecois style, Vollrath then added a component representing the West Coast, followed by a tune in the Métis style with “lots of bow in it for the dance. From there we went to the East Coast. When I think of the East Coast, I think of jigs in 6/8 time,” he says, singing a jig Learn a Country Dance Fiddle Tune from Western Canada / SO... http://www.allthingsstrings.com/index.php/layout/set/print/Repe...
rhythm. “So we changed the time signature to 6/8.
“After that was the prairies, and with me growing up in the prairies, I think of square dances,” he says, adding that the prairie section referenced the region’s heavy Ukrainian influence.
The medley ended with the Canadian classic “Maple Sugar,” from the Ottawa Valley.
*This article appeared in Strings January 201
Though he does not read or write music notation, Calvin Vollrath has strong feelings about how students can play written music with heartfelt emotion. He encourages students to evoke emotion in every piece by exploring a lilting or swinging feel, and he sings a few bars to illustrate how a lilting feel can make a tune both emotional and danceable. “You’re playing the same notes, but it’s how you’re playing them,” he says. “Maybe some last a little longer, some are a little shorter, and some are almost not there. That’s just feeling—playing from your heart as opposed to what’s written on the sheet.”
St. Paul Journal Story on Camp Calvin 2012.