"Chamber fiddle camp" in St. Paul to help kids bridge Beethoven and bluegrass

by Sheila Regan, Special to MPR
March 10, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Orange Mighty Trio member Zack Kline will be teaching his special brand of "chamber fiddle" at a camp this summer in St. Paul. At the camp, Kline will present a hybrid of chamber and fiddle styles, taking the best of both worlds. The camp, which runs for a week in late June, will teach fiddling, accompaniment and "musical silliness," culminating in a final performance for the participants, Kline said.

Though Kline has offered fiddle camps before, he hasn't taught a camp quite like this one. "In the past, it was just about learning fiddle tunes and focusing on folk music," he said. "This one is bringing in the chamber side. There'll be a bit more chamber music that is planned and more complex group playing and improvising together. The idea is that it is not too distant a space between string quartets and playing bluegrass.

In the camp, students will play traditional bluegrass music and fiddle tunes, but will also do some things that Kline has written that "are a bit more chamber-music-y," he said.

In his teaching, Kline incorporates music theory by adding a little fun. He teaches silly songs and has even created a comic book character called "super tonic man," who fights "dominant" man for world domination.

Kline tries to keep things really fun, and get people connected to the music. He also does group workshops where he encourages students to connect to the music, enjoy it and make it their own.

Erika Scheurer, whose 14-year-old son and seven-year-old son both take lessons from Kline, described Kline's approach as "taking a lot of skills that would traditionally learned in a classical setting and adapting to what students are interested in," she said.

Scheurer finds Kline's style very responsive to where each of the boys are at. While her older son started learning traditional fiddle with Kline, they've moved on to learn composition. Her older son was also interested in learning mandolin, so Kline began teaching him that instrument as well. Her younger son got a ukulele for Christmas, and — you guessed it — Kline could teach that too. "The main thing that stands out for me about Zack as a teacher is his flexibility and adaptability," she said.

When he was learning to play himself, Kline did a little bit of fiddle and a little bit of classical training from the beginning. He started with the Suzuki Method, which incorporates classical repertoire with ear training, but also had teachers who taught him fiddle tunes.

There are different ways of combining fiddle and chamber music, Kline said. For instance you can take "planned music" and treat it as if you are improvising, where you get comfortable making things up, with the "same energy and attitude" as if you're playing fiddle. The opposite way is to take fiddle tunes, and "instead of having a free-for-all, you can arrange them and compose on top of them," Kline said.

Kline's work with the Orange Mighty Trio is occasionally played on MPR News between segments. "That group is kind of chamber fiddle in a way — or it's close to that," he said. "It's kind of a band and kind of like a chamber group." He also plays Irish music here and there and freelances whenever an opportunity comes his way.

The Chamber Fiddle Music Camp will run June 23-27 at St. Mary's Church in St. Paul. See zackkline.com for more details.

Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis-based writer. She writes frequently for the Twin Cities Daily Planet and City Pages, among other publications.

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