A Fiddler Growing Up
8 years old 10 years old 12 years old 13 years old
14 years old 17 years old 18 years old
2005 Bio and Booking Info NHPR Folk Show 2012 2013 Updated Bio
It was Wednesday, July 26, 1995, when Jordan came for his first fiddle lesson at 1:00 in the afternoon. His mom drove him 45 minutes from Dunbarton where he lived then. That day he learned how to hold the bow and the fiddle, how to tune it, finger placements for the key of A, the tune, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, and maybe a scale or two. Lessons are done through the aural tradition of playing by ear as Dudley had taught me years ago. Instead of written music, students have a fiddle practice cassette (or CD) of the dance tunes to take home with them.
Jordan had heard our music and danced our dances prior to his lessons when we would play at the Canterbury Children's Center where he went to school. Besides playing at his school for May Day every year, we also would play for the school's family barn dance once every three years. Jordan was tall for his age (and still is tall), thin, with blond hair and brown eyes, and often wore a baseball hat everywhere.
Two days after his first lesson, his mom called saying Jordan wanted another lesson and asked how soon would I be free. "Come this afternoon," I said. Usually with most students, there is a week between lessons at which time I review and answer questions before I begin the next lesson. That wasn't the case with Jordan. He remembered everything, and I do mean everything. He had no questions and could play quite well everything that I had shown him just a few days before!
So for the second lesson, I taught him a tune we use for dances, Camptown Races, in the key of A, and a few other particulars about when you play for dances. After the hour, I sent him on his way with a cassette of dance tunes he should listen to and know before learning them on the fiddle. The next day he danced as a Morris dancer at the Canterbury Faire.
Jordan was back again in five days! He knew everything I had taught him and was incredibly eager for more. (I actually got a little nervous because I had never worked with anyone so brilliant and eager for everything I could give.) So in lesson three, he learned Yankee Doodle and The Muffin Man both in the key of D. The following week he could play them well, was working them up to dance tempo and was ready for Pop Goes the Weasel and The Bear Went Over the Mountain, both jigs (6/8 time) in the key of G. He was just amazing!
Even then, however, we could see that there was a side to Jordan that was extraordinary even beyond his great ability. He was humble, never showing off or bragging. You could see and feel immediately that he was always appreciative of what we taught him. You knew he just loved the music and the fiddle and the dance. He eagerly listened to stories Dudley would tell, anything from baseball to an old fiddler that Dudley once learned from. Stories of Yankee characters, chocolate sodas, Sugarin' Off parties in spring, Morris dancing in England, how to play on two and three strings at once, and how to fake it if you don't know the tune but you have a dance you have to play for. Jordan would listen, eyes wide, taking it all in, probably wondering if these great stories and the music and dance would be part of his life someday. (These sweet character traits of Jordan at 9-years-old we thought would change as he went through the myriad cycles of adolescence, but they never left him. Rather, they have matured.)
School started in September as did Little League baseball in which he was a great pitcher, Jordan, now in third grade, settled into coming just once a week for fiddle lessons.
THREE MONTHS later, on a cold October afternoon, 1995, Jordan played for his school's barn dance at Jill and Tim Meeh's barn in Canterbury.
At his next lesson, Jordan finally had a question only it was about one of the dances not about a fiddle tune. I said, "Wait a minute, I'll go get Dudley." When Dudley came in the cottage where I give my lessons, we thought Jordan would simply ask a question about one of the dances. Instead Jordan asked...
"Is this how the calls go for the Portland Fancy?" as he picked up his fiddle, played Golden Slippers and called out the changes for the Portland Fancy dance (baseball cap tilted down over his eyes). Dudley and I nearly fell over to see him play and call at the same time! How'd he learn that? He's only nine. He's only been playing three months! We could hardly believe it. But then ...
BY THE NEXT WEEK, Jordan could barely contain himself as he got out of the car, fiddlecase in hand:
"Jacqueline, I brought my fiddle in to school today for Show & Tell. When it was my turn to share, I got my fiddle out and I had all the kids make a circle. Then I called the directions to that dance, the Portland Fancy, while I played Golden Slippers, and it worked! They did it, they danced while I played and called!"
THEN TWO WEEKS AFTER THAT, Jordan came walking down the driveway with fiddle and cross-country ski shoes. Even though it was November, we had no snow for skiing. I was puzzled. He came in, sat down, changed into his ski shoes and started playing that great French Canadian dance tune, La Bastringue. In moments his feet started clogging out the beat in the traditional footwork pattern of the French Canadian "les pied." His ski shoes were perfect because they have a hard sole. He had often seen me doing this using my wooden sole clogs to make an accompanying rhythm for when Dudley and I are the only musicians playing for dances. He had it perfectly! He had taught himself, upstairs in his bedroom. We later learned that he nearly drove his family nuts during the previous few weeks.
In June 1996, he became an Traditional Arts Apprentice to Dudley through the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts along with another student/apprentice, Tyler Matteson of Epsom. Later that year Jordan moved to Canterbury with his family.
Dudley wrote for the Arts Council: Jordan learned the skill of calling and playing fiddle at the same time for traditional folk dances of the American /Canadian Atlantic Northeast. He was able to put much of his knowledge into practice with live dancers at homeschooler functions, and in classrooms at the Canterbury Children's Center and the Canterbury Elementary School. His only problem at that time was his voice was still high so his calls did not project well out to the dancers.
At the 135th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1998, Jordan, being long involved with historical re-enactments, was there as an "young soldier" who happened to bring his fiddle to practice during his free time. Once they heard him, he was asked to play as they sat around the campfire! He played and the spell it cast was magical. Later, his fiddling echoed around the country on the Associated Press radio network.
He was New Hampshire’s youngest participant for two weeks at the 1999 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. when he joined Two Fiddles, Dudley and Jacqueline Laufman. The Smithsonian Folklife Festival highlights time-honored traditions of music, craft and occupations passed down from past generations and still be played, made or done today. More at New Hampshire State Council for the Arts, Traditional Arts website www.nh.gov/folklife.
In June 2000, Jordan released his first CD, In and Out of the Harbour, a collection of Celtic tunes. He is accompanied on the CD by Carolyn Parrott, and Tim and Daimon Meeh of Canterbury.
He also was a participant in the Celebrate New Hampshire Festival in Hopkinton, New Hampshire.
Later that year, Jordan was hired as the regular monthly fiddler during the winter dances in Wentworth, NH, held the first Friday of the month. We had decided to no longer do the Wentworth dances because we are often booked for other engagements on those Fridays. We were delighted that our student and apprentice, Jordan, became their regular fiddler during the winter months when their regular fiddler was in Florida. His Dad, Dave, often would sit-in on whistle or saxophone since he had to make the drive to bring Jordan (an hour away from Canterbury.)
THE ACTIVITY WITH THE MOST MEANING FOR ME College application essay
by Jordan Tirrell-Wysocki
Although at times it has fallen into the background behind acting, sports, schoolwork, friends and all the other components of a high school student’s life, my career in fiddle music has had a huge hand in shaping who I am. I began playing when I was eight years old, excited to begin a new instrument in place of classical piano. I loved fiddling right away. From the beginning I was welcomed into the extensive fiddling and contra dancing community of central New Hampshire. This group of musicians and dancers is still very supportive of me. I learned how to relate to adults and people I did not know and how to accept graciously both praise and criticism. Then, as I moved toward Celtic music and began earning money for playing, I had to learn to negotiate terms and market my music. I got experience in public speaking at most of my "gigs." I recorded and produced two albums, both of which have their faults, but both taught me important lessons about business and merchandising.
Fiddling has given me the opportunity to meet people and go places I never would have known. When I was 13, I was the youngest person selected to represent New Hampshire at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. I will never forget the late nights in the hotel, jamming with the best musicians from my state and around the world, names I had only seen on album covers.
Thinking quickly and improvising were important skills to develop to be able to adapt to my audience, whether it be three-year-olds at a birthday party or elderly people at a nursing home. Each audience requires a different approach.
Over the nine years I have been playing, I have learned about Celtic and New England traditions and how to play traditional music, but I have also learned lessons in public relations and professional integrity that benefit me greatly today
The Power of Music First week at Middlebury College
by Jordan Tirrell-Wysocki
It was about a week into my first year of college, September 2004. I had met most of the other students on my hall, but no one really knew anyone else very well. I missed my friends from home and was feeling pretty lonely, even in the midst of plenty of other kids my age. They were all strangers at that point.
So I decided to get out my fiddle. Fiddling can usually pull me out of a bad mood. I was listening to Free Bird by Lynard Skynard (yes, I do sometimes listen to other styles of music besides fiddling), a song that has had special emotional significance for me ever since my friends and I performed it as our graduation song. I started playing along, not realizing that my door was open a crack. When the song was over, I glanced back over my shoulder to see that there were several people standing in my doorway with surprised looks on their faces. I hadn’t told them that I played the fiddle. They disappeared, only to come back seconds later with two guitars. We started jamming, and the music drew a few more people toward my room. Soon an electric keyboard was brought in, followed by another guitar and several eager listeners. In a matter of minutes, there were 4 guitars, a keyboard, a harmonica, a djembe, a recycling bin being played like a djembe and several singers in addition to my fiddle. The guitars would start playing a chord progression, and I would improvise something to go along with it. The singers would either make up their own words and melody, or just sing "la-la-la-la-la" in a way that fit perfectly with what everyone else was playing. At one point, we were surprised to see a face appear at our window, which is unusual considering that we are on the second floor. It was a bass player who had climbed the outside of the building to ask if anyone had an amp. We did, so he came up and added his bass to the rest.
At the height, before we had to end for a hall meeting, someone counted thirty people crammed into my tiny room. Four months later, people are still talking about how much fun it was, and I’ve heard the word "magical" used by several students. I would have to agree. It was the perfect ice-breaker. We were no longer strangers to each other after that night. Everyone had come together and let all their self-consciousness go, singing, clapping or playing an instrument to add to the music in their own way without any worries about what everyone else thought. There was no division between performers and listeners. Everyone was participating, completely uninhibited by the fear of making a mistake or embarrassing themselves that keeps so many people from expressing themselves musically.
Since then we have had the occasional jam session, but nothing like that first night. It was one of those priceless experiences one cannot reconstruct.
N.B. Since then Jordan has come to be known as "the Fiddler of Middlebury."
Concord Monitor newspaper: December 27. 2004
At 8 a.m. on mornings this week, college freshman Jordan Tirrell-Wysocki was at home in Canterbury, warm and asleep, instead of sitting in class with his notebook open and his pen poised. He spent the afternoons watching movies and eating his mom's chocolate crinkle cookies, not studying in the common room or napping. And 11 p.m. usually found him back in bed, as opposed to just starting play practice.
This month, thousands of New Hampshire college freshman flew back to the nest to celebrate the holidays and enjoy a few weeks' vacation. After spending the first semester settling into a routine that in most cases included new foods, a new social scene and late-night dates with the library, a few local freshman weighed in on college life and what it's like to be home again.
For Tirrell-Wysocki, 18, however, coming home was a treat, even though he said rural New Hampshire isn't too different from rural Vermont, where he's a freshman at Middlebury College. Tirrell-Wysocki was one of 16 graduates last year from the Sant Bani School in Sanbornton, and he said being away from home has made him miss annual community events such as the January Christmas Ride, where musicians carol door to door.
"I didn't appreciate it at home because it was something you could easily do," he said. "Now I'm really looking forward to it. It's such a great Canterbury tradition."
At Middlebury, Tirrell-Wysocki said he is studying theater, history, philosophy and English, hoping to major in one or a combination of those subjects. He is also on the track team and has already acted in a school production. One of the best things about college, he said, is that there are so many other young people around 24 hours a day - about 2,350, to be exact - and many with different life experiences than him.
"I'm meeting people that don't necessarily have same opinions and political views as I do," he said. "All the people that I knew before were pretty liberal people, but now there are a lot of people who disagree with me. It's good to talk and have conversations with them."
But at home for the holidays, Tirrell-Wysocki said he's been concentrating on spending time with his parents, his younger sister, his girlfriend and his golden retriever puppy, Cali, who his mom bought in May to "replace him" while he's at school. (His mom, Sarah, said the puppy bites more and listens less than her son.)
His recent routine seems so normal, Tirrell-Wysocki said, that it's hard to remember life at Middlebury.
"Now that I'm home, it feels like college was a weird dream," he said.
By MELANIE ASMAR
Copyright 2004 Concord Monitor
Jordan Tirrell-Wysocki, 18, has been playing the fiddle for about 10 years at square and contra dances in New Hampshire and at various festivals, parties and contests in the region. He plays both traditional New England dance music and Traditional Celtic music.
He performed for New Hampshire governor’s inaugural receptions in 1999, 2001 and 2005 at the Statehouse and was New Hampshire’s youngest participant at the 1999 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. In addition, he has represented New Hampshire for the three years at the Eastern States Exposition in Springfield, Mass. Other performances have included Sutton’s Musterfield Farm festivals, the Hopkinton Fair, the Spaulding and Frost Cooperage in Fremont, the Celebrate New Hampshire Festival in 2000, monthly Wentworth and Danbury square dances, afternoon sessions at Borders in Concord and street fiddling for downtown Concord events. He also has performed at numerous weddings, private parties and other functions. He often performs with Sam Kapala, who plays the tin whistle, the bodhran, and the guitar.
Jordan has studied fiddling with Jacqueline Laufman of Canterbury and Carolyn Parrott of Hopkinton. He also was an apprentice to New Hampshire fiddling legend Dudley Laufman in the art of calling traditional dances
Jordan won the under 18-year-old division in the annual Downtown Concord fiddling contest three years in a row and has won awards at other contests in the region.
In June 2000, Jordan
released his first CD, In and Out of the Harbour,
Compact Disc a collection of Celtic tunes. He is accompanied on the CD by Carolyn Parrott, and Tim and Daimon Meeh of Canterbury. In December of 2003, he released a second album, Off Center, this time working with Sam Kapala on whistles and percussion and Tyler Matteson on cittern, guitar and keyboards. Off Center has more of a Celtic rock theme on some tracks, though others retain a more traditional arrangement. Off Center also features some tunes written by Jordan.
Jordan attended Middlebury College, VT, where he studied theater, philosophy and English. He now earns his living as an extraordinarily talented fiddler.
2013 Updated Bio:
For more information, to order CDs or bookings call (603) 344-0400 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Find more, including videos, at his website http://www.jordantwmusic.com/ including this current (2013) bio and discography:
© 2005 Wind In The Timothy Press
With the exception of the Concord Monitor article and Jordan's essay and bio/info, most of the content on this page is by Jacqueline Laufman. She continues teaching students in the same manner but has never encountered anyone quite like Jordan. We hope this story will inspire others.