Fiddlers head to Falmouth for orchestral fun

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FALMOUTH — The weather on Monday night was reminiscent of something out of Irish lore: damp, misty, with the sun beginning to peek through the clouds after a rain shower.

It was nearly perfect for traditional music from the Celtic culture, and with that, fiddles.

As they do most Monday nights in August, about dozens of people gathered in the Falmouth Congregational Church on Falmouth Road to form what is hailed as the largest fiddle orchestra in the state: Fiddle-icious.

“This is our 13th season,” said Dennis Witham, president of the organization’s steering committee. He said it is the 12th year he’s participated, and in that time the group has “grown immensely.”

Witham said the roster is about 140 people, and on any given Monday night there are 80-100 people rehearsing. Led by Gorham-based luthier and accomplished fiddler Don Roy, Fiddle-icious draws people from all across southern Maine and all skill levels to play traditional songs from Irish, Scottish, Quebecois and Acadian cultures. The group is made up of fiddlers, guitarists, bass players, mandolin players, accordion players, cellists, dancers, singers and others.

Members of the public are welcome to listen in during rehearsals, with advance permission.

The group is designed to be accessible to musicians of all skill levels, from beginners to seasoned veterans. Roy writes parts for each level, which Witham said “blends nicely together.”

“I turned 40, and I thought, what do I want to do?” Witham recalled about deciding to learn an instrument. One day he turned on the radio and heard fiddle music, and when he learned about Fiddle-icious he came and “never looked back.”

“This group is the most inclusive, non-judgemental group I’ve ever been a part of,” said Kate LeRoyer, a Pownal member who stepped in to lead while Roy was absent from Monday night’s rehearsal.

Many members of the group said that’s what brings them back, year after year: the sense of camaraderie. June Escott, a Scarborough resident, said she had taken music lessons later in life, and then heard about Fiddle-icious. She has been a member for the past five years.

“You meet people from all over,” Escott said, with a diversity of backgrounds and occupations.

“People are here for a long time, and have common interests past just meeting here,” Witham added.

Cumberland resident Karen Wallingford said she also took music lessons, although they “were not fun.” She said she missed real music, until she found Fiddle-icious.

“I came, I saw, and it looked really fun,” she said, adding it was the sense of community that was important, too. “We all enjoy being with each other and with the music.”

Falmouth resident Bob Carver has been a member of the group for 12 years.  He played guitar when he was younger; a friend showed him how to play the fiddle and brought him to the group’s sessions.

“Fifty-five to 60 fiddlers playing at once … It’s quite a moving sound,” he said.

Carver added the people are a huge draw as well, that they are all very friendly and made him feel connected.

“I consider (them) another part of my family,” he said.

The music the orchestra plays changes every year, but always includes 20 songs. Witham said they begin practicing in January, and in October they begin a concert series.

This year, the group will play its first concert Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the Orion Performing Arts Center at Mt. Ararat Middle School in Topsham. The rest of the concert schedule can be found on the organization’s website, fiddleicious.com.

The group also records its set list every year and makes the CD available for purchase. Janet Fischer, a member and the group’s promotion manager, said the CD is a way “to preserve and share” the music, as well as a “chronicle of what we’ve done.”

“It’s like a language,” Fischer said of traditional fiddle music. “When there’s a break in a generation … you can lose it.”

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Fiddle-icious, which says it is the state’s largest fiddle orchestra, rehearses at the Falmouth Congregational Church on Aug. 1. A series of concerts begins in Topsham in October. (Colin Ellis / The Forecaster)

Fiddle-icious member Kate LeRoyer leads the group of 80 or so musicians through the set list Monday night at Falmouth Congregational Church. (Colin Ellis / The Forecaster)

Bruce Webb, of Gorham, plays the fiddle for Fiddle-icious, an orchestra that showcases traditional Irish, Scottish and French-Canadian music. (Colin Ellis / The Forecaster)

Fiddle-icous includes fiddlers, guitarists, bass players, mandolin players, banjo players and accordian players, among other musicians. (Colin Ellis / The Forecaster)

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.