June 22, 2018
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Penobscot Fiddles concert to raise scholarship funds for camp

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

BANGOR — The fiddles cried and the mandolin wept in a singular melancholy moment.

“Okay, back to jigs,” Jeffrey Silverstein said. “A one and a two.”

Bows touched strings, fingers plucked out chords, but the players stumbled in a false start. Silverstein, 50, of Bangor stopped his fellow musicians and counted it down for them again.

The dance tune filled the Music Room of the James Doughty Middle School on Fifth Street in Bangor and feet couldn’t keep themselves from tapping out the beat.

Penobscot Fiddles practices most Mondays from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the middle school. The group will perform Saturday evening at the Bangor Grange Hall, 1192 Ohio St., in a fundraiser for Fiddle Camp scholarships.

Maine Fiddle Camp is held in June and August at Camp NEOFA, owned by the Northeast Odd Fellow’s Association.

While Silverstein is best known for the legal notes he hits in the courtroom as a criminal defense attorney, his avocation is traditional music. He and his son, Max Silverstein, 14, of Bangor have played at the Queen City’s New Year’s Eve event, outside the performance venues at the American Folk Festival, in local pubs and for residents of area nursing homes.

“It used to be that people would get together in kitchens and living rooms to play and that’s how this music lived,” the lawyer said. “That’s not happening in this hyper-scheduled age.”

So last fall, he formed Penobscot Fiddles. It was Jeff Silverstein’s goal to bring together a multi-generational group to play traditional music in sessions similar to those held each summer night at the Maine Fiddle Camp in Montville.  

“At Fiddle Camp, you’re as likely to find a 67-year-old beginner as an 8-year-old beginner,” Silverstein said. “One of the beauties of camp is that the staff encourages all campers to get involved in performing. Anyone can get up on stage in front of a very welcoming audience. It doesn’t matter what level they play at.

“Sometime ago, the idea was conceived to spread that good feeling in an effort to build awareness about Fiddle Camp,” he said. “We’re taking the camper concert on the road. There’s been a Fiddlers Showcase in Waldo County for about five years and there will be one in Hancock later this year.”

Another goal was to bring together musicians that spanned generations. At practice Monday, players ranged in age from 12 to 61.

Julia Vine, 12, of Bangor and Victoria Stillman, 13, of Carmel are home-schooled but take violin lessons at the same Bangor studio Max does. While their focus there is mainly on classical music, the girls separately decided they would like to try a different kind of music.

“I’ve always thought [fiddle music] was pretty to listen to, now I get to play it,” Julia said. “And, if I make a mistake, it’s easier to cover it up.”

“I like that it’s fast,” Victoria said, “but the most challenging thing about playing it is that it’s fast.”

Elizabeth Detwiler, 25, of Old Town has played the violin since she was 5 years old. A student at the University of Maine majoring in anthropology, she joined the group after seeing the Silversteins perform.

“This is the first time I’ve played with a group like this,” Detwiler said Monday. “I like it. There’s less structure and more room for [improvisation] than with classical music.”

As for Saturday’s concert, Penobscot Fiddles has been practicing tunes for the show for several months. The music the group will play Saturday is representative of those often played at contra dances and are common for the genre, especially in the Northeast, according to Silverstein.

“These songs are works in progress,” he said Monday. “They live and breathe from week to week.”

The 2011 Penobscot County Fiddler’s Showcase will be held at 7 p.m., followed by a contradance at 9 p.m., at the Bangor Grange Hall,1192 Ohio St. Admission will be $10 per person or $30 for a family. For information, call 659-8041 or email PenoscotFiddles@gmail.com.

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