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Pauline Lerner

July 8, 2004 at 6:46 PM

Sunday night, I went to an unusual Fourth of July party. (It's also my birthday.) Every year, at the end of June and beginning of July, the Smithsonian puts on a Folklife Festivalon at the National Mall in Washington DC. The performers stay in a hotel nearby and, at night, they go to a Hospitality Suite (read "party") staffed by volunteers from the Folklore Society of Greater Washington, including me and some of my friends. It's great fun, a real work party. Sunday night I distributed beer to the participants. It was a great job because the people always smiled at me when they got their beer. Also, I used the ice water from the containers holding the beer to cool my face and hands.

The performers from the Festival took turns playing music and everyone danced. I especially enjoyed the mariachi band made up of Hispanic Americans, even though I thought I wouldn't like the music. They were just great! There were two trumpets, four fiddles, an unusual kind of harp, and several different sizes and shapes of guitar. One guitar was huge, both long and deep. Even a regular guitar looks big to me, a fiddler. There was no competition between the trumpets and the fiddles; they simply didn't play at the same time. Of course, I was especially interested in the fiddlers, particularly the youngest, age 12. I spoke to him, and he told me that he has been playing the violin for only four years. His teacher, who also plays in the band with him, is his father. That kid, like the other fiddlers in the band, is a real virtuoso. He moved his left hand all up and down the fingerboard, playing lots of notes right near the bridge. He played quickly, loudly, with verve and precision. I looked at his right hand to see his technique, but I couldn't because he was moving it too fast. Make no mistake, this was technically very difficult and very precise playing. It was also good, stirring music. When the four fiddlers played in the band, they were a wonder to behold. They did everything in unison -- raising their fiddles and bowing arms and then moving their bows in long, confident strokes. They had obviously been playing together for quite a while, and they sounded incredibly good. At times, they took breaks from fiddling and sang, robustly and in unison. The audience responded well, dancing energetically. These fiddlers are star musicians in their own right, just like classical violinists. I'm so glad I was there!

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