Fiddle-L Anthology 1999

A Tour 'Round The World Of Fiddling

Performer Bio


42.

Christine Renee Traxler, Seattle, Washington, U.S. (ctraxler@westin.com)

Christine was born May 11, 1966, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Her educational background includes a Bachelor of Science in Engineering and English from the United States Air Force Academy; two years chasing an Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Eastern Washington University (about 1/2 completed); 1 year (studied) Scotts Gaelic. Past professions: flew weather satellites in the Air Force; grass roots organizing for non-profit politics; Campaign Coordinator for Congressional campaign. Currently, Christine is Proposal Coordinator for new hotel development, Westin Hotels & Resorts. At night and on weekends, she plays fiddle with the band Wicked Celts. Christine is a member of Victory Music (Tacoma, WA), and Seinneadairean Gàidhlig Shiàtal (Gaelic Singers of Seattle).

HERITAGE, HISTORY, LESSONS, FAVORITE TUNE

Christine calls herself a "mutt" with Irish, Scottish, English, and German heritage. Her mother was born in Sydney, Australia, and her father was born in St. Francis, Kansas. Her paternal grandfather, Joe Traxler, played the violin. When Christine was nearly 11, her first violin arrived via UPS at her home in Garden City, Kansas. "From what I remember, I started out with Suzuki in the public school, but was switched over to something else about four months into playing. I [took] private classical lessons [from] 8th grade - 12th grade. Rarely played during college at the Academy. During graduate school at Eastern Washington University, I took some lessons from an instructor out there for a quarter-- to brush up on my technical skills and to play in the school's symphony." Christine notes that Arvid Lundin of Spokane, Washington, was her mentor for several years, on contra dance, some old time and bluegrass, Irish and Swedish styles. She has taken a few informal lessons from Martin Hays and Dale Russ in Seattle. This year will be Christine's first to attend Fiddle Tunes at Port Townsend, Washington. "I think [my first fiddle tune] might have been Red Wing, The Irish Washerwoman, or Turkey in the Staw; however, I took a shine to Devil's Dream fairly early on. From the first day I got my fiddle, my Dad, who played guitar, would hum tunes over and over (and over, and over!) until I got them. This gave me the basic melody, but it wasn't until Dad took me to the Grange Hall one day and let me play with a bunch of the "Old Time" fiddlers that I realized there was more to the tune than just playing the melody. I generally have a favorite tune of the month. I like 'em dark and minor; maybe Farewell to Erin or Master Crowley's; Julia Delany's is great! Kevin Burke is fabulous on these tunes. Liz Carroll plays a tune similar to Master Crowley's that just growls. I call it her version of Master Crowley's, though she calls it Clarke's Favorite on her self-titled CD." Currently, Christine's favorite fiddler is Liz Carroll, but she also says she has favorite fiddlers for different styles.

TYPES OF TUNES, INSTRUMENTS, VENUES

Christine enjoys playing jigs, reels, hornpipes, strathspeys, airs, slides, schottishes, Swedish walking tunes, waltzes, middle eastern improvisation, and hoedowns. She plays piano, mandolin, bodhran ("a little of this, a little of that!") in addition to fiddle. She likes different backup depending on the tune. "My partner/boyfriend plays 5-string and 4-string banjo, concertina, guitar, mandolin and bouzouki, and we tend to pick and choose which instrument best fits the tune. For sheer versatility though, I'd have to say guitar [is the best backup]." Several years ago, Christine played with a contra dance band, "which was a blast. Currently I play for informal dancers at Ceilidhs." She played in church as a child, has played for weddings, and while in high school, she had an agreement with a funeral home to come in and play at memorial services on occasion -- "I would slip in the back door, play for 20 minutes with a pump organist, and slip back out with an unmarked envelope (money under the table!)." She plays publicly with her band; "however my partner/boyfriend and I play every moment we're not doing something else, and we occasionally get together with friends to jam.

"Wicked Celts is the name [of my band]. We are a six piece group consisting of Seumas Gagne on Clarsach (harp) and backing vocals; Marisa Lanning on percussion and vocals; Stan Lanning on stand-up bass and backing vocals; Lisa De Luca, lead vocals and percussion; Bruce Singleton on uillean pipes, great highland pipes, flute and whistle; and Christine Traxler on fiddle and backing vocals. Wicked Celts' music is an ambitious and eclectic mix of tune sets and songs from the British Isles, as well as original compositions in the style of the Tradition, interpreted in a spirit of modern and world-beat rhythms. Our first ever, hot-off-the-press self-released CD is entitled Wicked Celts: Prophecy and Blessing and is available from P.O. Box 95658; Seattle, WA 98105; (206) 527-1713; wickedcelt@aol.com"

FIDDLE CONTESTS

Christine does not have a particular interest in contests, but the few she's attended have been fun to watch. She entered one on the spur of the moment while in college, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. To her memory, she played Devil's dream, Westfalia Waltz, and Cripple Creek. An older man with a guitar was the backup for those who didn't bring their own. "I actually came in 6th or something and won this huge belt buckle. Being 19 or 20 years old, I wasn't really "into" the belt buckle scene so to speak, and traded my prize for someone else's prize. It was rather fortuitous, actually; after I won the buckle, this older man, who had just won 1st in his division and a cash prize, asked me if I would sell the buckle to him! We traded prizes and became good friends. It was from this man, Ivan Case, that I would later buy my current fiddle -- one of the best sounding fiddles I've ever played on." Does a person have to play the fiddle to be a competent contest judge? "My gut instinct would be to say 'NO!' I don't have to know how to make movies to judge a movie. I don't have to be an excellent writer to judge a book. However, a judge should have knowledge of the various styles of playing, have listened to fiddle playing extensively, etc."

STYLE

"I've been cursed with just being in love with every style of fiddling out there. I have, however, been focusing on Irish-style fiddling for the past 3 years or so. What this culminates in, is a style that is somewhat Irish sounding (with no particular regional qualities [e.g. Sligo, Donegal], as happens sometimes when Americans, with our easy access to every style of playing, learn Irish music almost solely from recordings of various fiddlers), but deeply influenced from my earliest memories of old timey and bluegrass. I utilize the rolls and bowed triplets of Irish, but I'll throw in a shuffle or two, and double stops when ever I can get away with it. Though I continue to delve into the intricacies of Irish music, my sound will always sound 'American' I think -- but, why not, that's where I'm from, right? On the other hand, I get it sometimes from Irish traditionalists. That's ok. My fascination with Cape Breton, Scottish, Swedish, Irish, swing, bluegrass and gypsy, has created a 'different' sound that I like. And in the Living Tradition, this 'Ameri-Celtic' sound is as valid, I believe, as any other tradition....as long as we document, record, and continue to nurture the purest form of the originating tradition(s). It's always a process. I still feel like it's 'early times' for me, as I spent so much time in orchestras and symphonies. I wasn't around too many fiddlers when I was a kid, and certainly not while I was into classical playing. My Dad (guitarist), however, kept me playing some of the old tunes, and he was a huge influence. The fiddler that really grabbed my ear, however, and became my mentor of sorts, was Arvid Lundin from Spokane, WA. This was after college and I was stationed in the Air Force. Arvid is a fabulous fiddler and overall musician. I have never heard a more versatile player -- the man plays every style from Swedish to Bluegrass. That's possibly (most likely!) where my style originates. Contra dancers used to comment that they couldn't tell who was playing sometimes -- Arvid, or me. That has to do with style only, because Arvid can do things on the fiddle I can't even dream of!!"

How many styles does Christine feel there are overall? "In my own playing, or in general?? My own playing seems to encompasses Irish, Old Timey, Bluegrass, Scottish, Cape Breton, swing, blues, jazz, Swedish and Middle Eastern. Some to a much greater extent than the others. In the genre I play -- Irish/Celtic... "they" seem to have coined a style called the 'Northwest' style. I don't know what that means, necessarily, however I do know that it has been influenced by the amazing amount of talented players that have moved to this region in recent years: Martin Hays (now in Seattle), Kevin Burke (now in Portland), and Alasdair Frasier (in San Francisco) to name a few. Dale Russ (Seattle) and Randall Bays (Portland) are two great players who have been influenced by these fiddlers, and who have helped create that 'Northwest' sound.

THE INSTRUMENT

"I bought it off of Ivan Case, Colorado Springs, Co. He in turn bought it from an old fiddler from Arkansas who had it for 50 years. He in turn had bought it from someone in the South who had it for ? years. You get the picture. According to Ivan they figure it was made in the 1870's. I've had conflicting guesses on possible make. All appraisers/makers I've shown it to say that it was made by an amateur maker (though a decent enough one, nonetheless), but they differ in region. Some say Germany, and one in particular is absolutely positive it was made in America. I believe it is a Strad copy. Its gender is somewhat ambiguous, though it seems more like a 'she' than a 'he!' She is a very serious fiddle, with the most mature sound I've ever heard (with the exception of a Strad I played once in High School). Other fiddles may be louder, or quicker, or whatever...but her sound is....wise, I guess. Her overall balance is like a Greek column -- other architectural styles may be flashier, but nothing holds up like the column. On occasion, however, she can let loose with fire! When she is warmed up, watch out. I really love my fiddle -- I can't imagine wanting another (give me $50,000 and I might change my mind, however!!). I just recently purchased a Kun after 15 years with the same old Roth [shoulder] rest from High School. It's OK. I wish I didn't need one, however, as they are all really are a pain in the _____. I've always preferred Dominants (Dr. Thomastik). A couple of days ago I put on a full set of D'addario's Zyex strings. There is a certain crispness that I dig about these new strings, but the e-string is a bit tinny-sounding and the a-string is a bit brash for my tastes. I'll see when they settle down. Last year I made my big bow purchase -- a handmade bow from a local maker (Seattle, WA) by the name of Ann E. Larson. I'd been trying out bows for several months when I found my current bow. It was obvious from the moment I played it that it fit with my fiddle. It's on the light side (59 point something or other grams) and very flexible -- but STRONG! The balance is excellent. I'd recommend trying out your local bow-maker! I've inherited two fiddles that are in sorry, sorry shape -- I don't know if I should fix them or burn them, but sentimentality will win over I'm sure."

WHY DO YOU PLAY THE FIDDLE?

"It's an obsession, isn't it? I'm in love with it. I don't think I could not play fiddle. It's the sexiest, most sensual instrument. I switched over from classical violin to fiddling for several reasons: the music is incredibly compelling and my pull towards it is undeniable; it's a more accessible genre for "folks;" fiddling has more creative potential than classical in that fiddle music encompasses the Living Tradition; and it's the best instrument/music to dance to! Everyone loves the fiddle. I like the "gathering" effect playing the fiddle has on people. I consider myself somewhat shy, and this is one way to be out there among others. Fiddling is one of the things I am happiest doing, whether it be alone or with others."

Christine recorded the following tunes: "Master Crowley's--I'd heard this one played here and there at sessions. I learned it finally from some sheet music and two recordings -- one by Liz Carroll playing Clarke's favorite (it's almost the same tune!), and another recording of various button accordion players. I've compared versions of it with several other fiddlers, as well. Kilarney Boys of Pleasure--a couple of my band mates had been playing it, and I wanted to learn it. I've learned both fairly recently -- within the past year.

"Christian Hoffman -- Guitar backup on this recording -- Christian and I met two years ago when our respective bands came together to put on a joint concert. Despite the cliché, it really was love at first site (and sound!). As soon as he began strumming his bouzouki, I was smitten. We've been playing together ever since then, and hope to start gigging together soon around Seattle with another one of his bandmates. Here is his short bio: Christian currently plays mandolin, Irish bouzouki, tenor banjo, guitar, concertina and 5-string banjo. His performance history has included folk music, rock and roll, country music, "singer-songwriter stuff," and most currently bluegrass, Irish folk, and Celtic rock. His current band, Wicker Pig, performs an upbeat mix of songs and tunes from Canada and the UK in the ever-ambiguous, yet admittedly fun and raucous genre of "Celtic rock." Wicker Pig is his outlet for working in a high profile setting which allows him to mix all of his musical interests quite effectively."