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ITHACA, N.Y. — The Finger Lakes Fiddle Orchestra, a new local musical ensemble beginning in early September, is inviting musicians of different ages, musical abilities and instruments to come together and improve their skills.   

“One of my favorite things about fiddle music is that it’s approachable by people of a lot of different levels,” said Tim Ball, musical director of FLFO. “Some of the best fiddle tunes have a really simple skeleton to them, so you can play a simple version of the tune without being a virtuoso on your instrument.”

Fiddle music includes traditional American and Celtic musical styles and features an array of instruments beyond the fiddle including the mandolin, bass, banjo, flute, cello, guitar, pennywhistle, accordion, and other traditional instruments. 

From left, (left to right): Tim Ball (musical director), Mike Ludgate, Joan Hudyncia, Anne Robbins, and Dave Christie.

FLFO’s first session will kick off Sept. 5 and Ball will teach and rehearse 20 to 25 pieces of fiddle music to the ensemble, which will rehearse once a week for 10 weeks every session. While Ball said the orchestra is designed more for adults who are interested in learning and playing fiddle music together, he said middle school and high school students are also welcome to join the ensemble.

“What I’m hoping for is that people have a good experience playing fiddle music and that they think it’s something that’s fun, approachable and a really good social activity,” said Ball.

Dave Christie, a local musician who was instrumental in creating the upcoming Finger Lakes Fiddle Orchestra, said there are a lot of jam sessions and opportunities in Ithaca for people who are experienced musicians, but less for people who are still in the learning process. 

Christie, who originally pitched Ball the idea to start a fiddle orchestra in Ithaca, said he was inspired by The Vermont Fiddle Orchestra and The Fiddle Orchestra of Western Massachusetts to start a fiddle orchestra locally. 

“I thought, ‘What a great idea.’ You know, you can only go so far with an instrument, I think, when you play alone in your home. I think that music is meant to be shared, it’s meant to be a community, collaborative kind of thing, and so I have this urge to play with other people, and yet I was frustrated by the jams that I go to; not at all with the people at the jams, but with my own inability to play up to speed,” he said, referring to informal musical events where people come together to improvise music.   

“In part, it was almost self-serving because I wanted to play with people and jams weren’t working and there was no other real alternative, so I thought, ‘Let’s start this thing and see if it can fly here,’” Christie said.

Musicians are asked to bring their own instruments to rehearsal. Ball said people of all different skill levels can contribute to the ensemble by assigning participants different roles of difficulty.

“These tunes have been played by so many people for so many years that there are all of these different ways of playing a tune in a more complicated way: dressing it up with more notes or more ornaments, and oftentimes they sound pretty good together, so not everybody will be playing the same thing. It’s my job to sort of give people a direction,” Ball said.

The first session of FLFO will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Sept. 5, at the Lifelong Senior Center, located at 119 W. Court St. in Ithaca. Rehearsals will continue at the same time every Thursday for 10 weeks until Nov. 7 and will conclude with a concert open to the public later that month. 

The first rehearsal of every session is free for anyone interested in trying it out before joining. Those who wish to continue with FLFO are asked to pay between $175 and $200, depending on how much they can afford, which is due at the second rehearsal. Any questions about membership fees and appropriate instruments to rehearse with can be emailed to fingerlakesfiddle@gmail.comTo register for FLFO and learn more about the program, visit the Finger Lakes Fiddle Orchestra website.

J.T. Stone

J.T. Stone is a contributor for The Ithaca Voice and a 2020 graduate of Ithaca High School. Questions? Story tips? Email him at jt22stone@gmail.com.