Fiddlers provide comfort and joy

Volunteer musicians and singers perform in Camas and Washougal

Ernie Warwick fiddles because he enjoys it, and he hopes the audiences do as well. As a member of the Old Time Fiddlers, he has several opportunities each month to give and receive enjoyment.

Warwick, 83, of Camas, plays a fiddle and guitar. He has been fiddling for 26 years and playing a guitar since he was 18.

“I enjoy other people hearing me perform and the smile on their face,” Warwick said. “They always say how happy they are that we are there. If they enjoy what we are doing, we try to do the best we can.”

The Old Time Fiddlers have performed during Loaves & Fishes lunches in Camas, Washougal, Vancouver, Battle Ground and Ridgefield, as well as in area nursing and retirement homes.

Warwick’s wife Rose, 73, sings during some of the fiddlers’ performances.

“If they really like it and they compliment me, it really makes me feel good,” she said. “That’s all I care for is smiles.

“We don’t get [paid] for this,” Rose Warwick added. “We just really enjoy this.”

The Warwicks plan to celebrate their 60th anniversary in April. They have three children and numerous grandchildren and great- grandchildren.

Ernie worked for Crown Zellerbach for 42 years before he retired.

He has participated in state and national fiddling contests, and he appreciates the opportunities that the Old Time Fiddlers provide.

“It gives us something to look forward to, instead of sitting in our easy chair,” Ernie Warwick said. “We look forward to playing music. It helps us in our health to play music for other people. It gives you something to think about. When you see people at the retirement places – younger than you – you are so lucky you can do things for them.

“Some of the people will be on their deathbed, and they will ask a few of us to play for them while they are laying there and they are ready to go at any time,” he added. “Their relatives are so thankful we do things like that.”

Chlovena “Chloe” Byrd, of Vancouver, has been part of the Old Time Fiddlers since 1992.

While playing a fiddle can be fun and make other people feel good, she said it is not easy.

“Everything is difficult about playing the fiddle,” Byrd said. “It is absolutely dependent on your ear. Most of us play by ear. You put a piece of music in front of us, and it does not mean a thing. We learn by listening.

“It’s just a difficult instrument,” she added. “If you press too hard, you ‘squak.’ If you don’t press hard enough, you can’t be heard. That’s why the ear is so important.”

Byrd, 73, appreciates the opportunity to play with other musicians.

“You would not do it at all if you did not have other fiddlers to share this music with and to learn tunes from,” she said. “Teach a tune, learn a tune. It’s a community. We all love fiddling. This does not mean we are really good at it, but we love it or we would not be doing it.

“We all ‘squak’ at one time or another,” Byrd added. “We sound the best when we are playing together. We think our presence in the community brings a lot of happiness to people who are confined in nursing homes and other group living situations. Since we play the old tunes, they enjoy that. It’s like a link to their remembered pasts.”

Some of the more recognizable tunes performed by the Old Time Fiddlers include “Maggie” and “Turkey in the Straw.”

Judy Muzzy adds “Ragtime Annie,” “Golden Slippers and “West Coast Waltz” to those song titles.

She has been part of the fiddlers for four years.

“I just picked up a fiddle and started playing,” Muzzy said. “I used to sit in the audience and watch. I would click on the tape recorder and play along at home. I’d listen to the tapes in the car, so I had them down in my head.”

Old Time Fiddlers’ practices, which are open to the public, sometimes attract people who play accordions and banjos.

“We invite folks with instruments to join us – nothing electrical,” Muzzy said. “Stringed instruments are our focus. We’ve had people play a saw and a washtub. You never know what is going to walk through the door. We have several people who come from Oregon. There is a big floor space for dancing.

“We invite people to join us on play dates too,” she added. “We have teenage fiddlers who are so good and so fast. They play jigs. They really tear up the room. They are the future of fiddling.”

Muzzy, 63, of Battle Ground, has enjoyed getting to know the other performers.

“They have become friends,” she said. “They have such a wealth of history in America. Clyde Clymer has written several of his tunes, including “The Idaho Stomp.”

“Harry Vandervender flew bombers in the Air Force to the ‘Berlin Airlift,'” Muzzy added. “I just love to sit and talk to these amazing people.”

She is a retired teacher from the Battle Ground School District.

“I knew I needed something to do,” Muzzy said. “I played piano as a child. I always wanted to play the fiddle or violin.

“You can play alone at home but to perform with a group, it just sounds so much better,” she added. “They cover all my little errors. It’s a wonderful feeling to perform in a band. It gives me a whole new energy and keeps me going.”

The area musicians are called District 10 of the Washington Old Time Fiddlers, a statewide organization. For Veterans Day, Muzzy and other musicians held a jam session with fiddlers from Oregon, at the community center in Stevenson. It involved 25 musicians and more than 100 audience members.

Other performances have been held at the Clark and Skamania county fairs.

For more information about the Old Time Fiddlers, call Muzzy at 687-3857 or email muzzyj@q.com.

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