My grandmother was a violinist.
When I was much younger, I can remember her describing in detail her efforts to learn to play it and how, after an injury from an automobile accident, she had to set her violin down.
Stuck in my mind most vividly, I remember how she told me it was one of the most difficult instruments in the world to master, and I remember being awed by her willingness to try it.
These discussions with my grandmother came to mind as I sat down to listen to April Verch, who – somehow – has managed to add an extra level of difficulty to the already taxing task of fiddle playing.
Verch, who hails from Ottawa Valley, Canada, is a prodigious fiddle player, having taken up the instrument at the age of six. Though it is hard to believe, Verch – at the ripe old age of the average Kindergartner – was already an established traditional step dancer, a skill she began honing at just three years old, when she first laid bow to strings.
The Berklee College of Music graduate now punctuates her ferocious fiddling with traditional step dance routines. Verch’s performances are truly a remarkable one-two punch, with her fiddle prowess matched equally by her dance moves.
This month, Verch released The April Verch Anthology, a compilation of eighteen tracks that chronicle her nearly twenty year recording career. I recently caught up with April to chat about the new anthology, learning to both fiddle and dance, and amateur entomology.
BRO – How hard was it for you to pick the eighteen tracks on this anthology?
AV – I kind of thought that listening through all of the old releases might make me cringe a bit, honestly, and that it would be hard to find enough that I felt good about. But it wasn’t like that at all. It was enjoyable, and the only hard part was deciding how to narrow it down. We basically decided to try to approach it by including a healthy mix of both fan favorites and personal favorites. which are surprisingly almost always two different things. I think we achieved a nice blend and that the end result gives a good overall picture of my career thus far.
BRO – If you had to add one more, what track might you pick?
AV – It’s a bit hard to pick just one more, but I think I would have to go with “Lazy John,” from my 2011 release That’s How We Run. That track featured Riley Baugus and Dirk Powell and is pretty special. They are the real deal, and I love that old song.
BRO – We are featuring “Jump Cricket, Jump” on this month’s Trail Mix. How much cricket studying did you have to do to get this track just right?
AV – I am extremely fortunate to have two great scientists in my band. Cody Walters, who plays bass and banjo, has a degree in environmental science, and Alex Rubin, who plays guitar, is a neurobiologist. Together we measured and the number of chirps per minute that a cricket makes to determine the best tempo and groove for the track, all depending on the temperature of the day, of course. It gets rather complicated when we’re touring, so we base our findings on a rolling three day mean of temperature and humidity surrounding the gigs’ locations, as well as other factors, which I probably shouldn’t get into here, like pollen counts and local fishing conditions.*
BRO – You picked up fiddling and dancing at very young ages. Which was harder to learn?
AV – I started dancing at three and fiddling at six, and as far as I remember now, both were equal in degree of difficulty. Everything is easier when you’re a kid, though, isn’t it? I remember feeling like I could do anything that I put my mind to! And I think I had some natural ability, so things weren’t so hard at first. Then I realized several plateaus as I got older and more experienced, and that’s when the work really began, to overcome those challenges. I was lucky to have great teachers and to be surrounded by local musicians and dancers, too, which made all the difference to me.
BRO – Any advice for parents of kids learning the fiddle?
AV – Let them squeak. Don’t even mention it! I think the best way to get past the awkward squawks that come with learning an instrument is to let them fly so that you can learn to avoid them. Encourage a fearless approach, rather than trying to get them to play more quietly to avoid them, and they’ll end up with better tone more quickly. And remind kids that playing music is about expressing yourself and having fun, not about being being perfect. Actually, that’s not a bad thing for parents to remember, too.
April Verch and her band have shows scheduled in Nashville, Louisiana, and even my hometown of Gulfport, Mississippi, this week. For more information on April, her band, or when she might be coming to a stage near you, please check our her website.
Also, be sure to listen to “Jump Cricket, Jump,” along with tracks from Shinyribs, Nicki Lane, Bell The Band, Southern Avenue, and more on this month’s Trail Mix.
* This might be the best answer I have ever gotten in a Trail Mix interview, and I really, really want to believe it to be true.