String players in the Front Range had a real treat this past weekend. Living legend Darol Anger and the Republic of Strings, which features violinist Enion Pelta-Tiller of TAARKA, and Joy Adams of Half Pelican on cello, hosted a workshop at Naropa before performing a concert in the evening on Sunday, April 23rd as the conclusion of their most recent Front Range tour. The full ensemble, which included Emy Phelps on guitar and vocals, Mike Robinson on guitar, and Eric Thorin on bass, played an evening concert the same day.
Darol Anger has made an indelible impact on the evolution of the fiddle. From his early days with David Grisman to the Turtle Island String Quartet, and his 2012 release of Chops & Grooves with Rushad Eggleston and Casey Driessen, Anger is no stranger to stretching possibilities and breaking rules through innovative techniques. His Fiddle-ology workshops are aimed at sharing these techniques that Anger helped developed in contemporary styles, techniques which transcend any particular genre. “I’m a failed classical player,” Anger laughed, “but that’s why I teach: to be the teacher that I wish I had.”
Nearly 50 string players attended the workshop, including fiddlers, cellists, mandolin players, and a harpist. Ages and experiences ranged as well, from kids under 12 who have played most of their lives, to touring professionals who make their living performing music, and adults who have recently picked up their instrument for the first time in decades, or recently picked it up for the very first time. Each participant shared their journey with music. “I played violin as a girl and put it down for a few years, but I just picked it up again after retirement,” said one fiddler, smiling. Another shared, “I’ve played professionally in symphonies for years, but you don’t get much exposure to music like this in Miami.” Despite their differing paths, all of the participants were looking to expand their musical vocabulary, whether it was getting out of habitual solos, diversifying their backup techniques, or even learning to break away from classical training to freely improvise.
The Republic of Strings are the perfect performers to share these techniques. Philosophically, the ensemble disregards limitations and borders. As articulated in their bio, “Our shared Republic Of Strings’ imaginary borders extend through all geographical or other imaginary borders, and we accept no unsightly cultural boundaries. We revel in variety and seek to deeply understand.” Such is true musically as they blend the folk music spanning the world, including Scandinavia, Africa, South America, urban America, Appalachia, and more with neo-classical, blues, jazz, hip-hop, bluegrass, and postmodern influences, ultimately weaving together a new tapestry of music that defies compartmentalization in any genre or style.
The partnership between Pelta-Tiller and Anger is also unique and longstanding. “Darol and I have been friends for a very long time,” said Pelta-Tiller. “I grew up listening to him in the Bay area and would go see him with my parents when I was really little. After college I was staying at my parents, and I took some lessons with him,” she said. Since then, they have taught at some of the same fiddle camps and see each other at festivals. “We’ve been friends for a long time, and I’m really excited to be able to bring him out here,” she said.
Although this was the first workshop of its kind at Naropa, Anger and Pelta-Tiller are considering the possibility of doing more area workshops in the future and even expanding what those workshops offer. The full calendar of events can be found on Naropa’s website, including this summer’s Creative Music Workshop, which focuses on improvisation. Pelta-Tiller and Adams are also both teaching at the Rustic Roots campfire jamming camp in Moffat, Colorado this August.
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All photos per the author. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.