For the past year, Long Island resident Katie Norton has been teaching students traditional fiddle music. A musician for 20 years and a teacher for 10, Norton said she started lessons on the island with just one student and now has a dozen. And, thanks to the town’s Recreation Department, that number will continue to grow.
“A lot of kids were interested (in lessons),” Norton said. “But their budgets were limited. So rec and I joined forces.”
The result of the collaboration? A music program that helps any Long Island child learn how to play the fiddle.
“We knew that it would be hard for families to pay not only for instrument rentals but also for weekly lessons,” said Melissa Brown, the department’s program director. “One of our goals for any program that we offer to the Long Island community is affordability.”
While each family is responsible for providing their child with an instrument, the Recreation Department will provide the family with money to pay for the lessons should the financial need arise, Brown said. Recently Norton, along with several local musicians, organized a Coffee House” fundraiser to raise money for the program.
Held January 16, the Coffee House drew a crowd of 60 people to the town’s school. With coffee donated by Portland Coffee Roasters and desserts provided by volunteers, the performance raised almost enough money for almost a year’s worth of lessons, according to Brown.
Musical performers at the Coffee House not only included Norton, but also two of her students, her husband Jonathan Norton on guitar and her little brother Seth on the cello. Additionally, three other island musicians – Leah Doughty, Mike Maloney and Robin Clarke- donated their time and talent to the event.
“It really surpassed expectations,” Norton said of the event, adding that one of the Long Island charities, “Changing Tides,” donated a significant sum of money that will go a long way in helping the violin program. The occasion raised more than $1,000 for the music program.
Katie Norton’s students are mostly elementary school-aged, but she does teach a high school senior and an elderly woman. However, she said she finds the same sort of enthusiasm from all of her students, no matter how old they are.
“[The students] are great,” she said. “They all seem excited. Some are shy and some are outgoing, but they all are finding out how fun it is.”
Currently, Norton only offers individual lessons, but she said she hopes that someday there will be enough students to start a fiddle group.
“I got a lot of joy out of growing up as a musician,” Norton said. “And people say the experience of playing with other people is one of the best things about music.”
One of Katie’s students, 8-year-old Rosie Train, said that she began lessons because it looked fun.
My mom plays the guitar while I play the violin,” she said, adding that her repertoire included two songs-one of which she had memorized. Her mother, Marci Train, said that she never has to ask Rosie to practice-she just does it by her on volition twice a day. Additionally, Train said the other day Rosie began to play Hot Cross Buns and her older sister Hattie joined in on the recorder.
“They sounded good,” Train said. “It’s an awesome program.” According to Train one of the reasons it’s so successful is because Norton, who also works as a teacher at Long Island School, already has a good rapport with the kids.
In the end, Norton said, teaching music is about providing people with an outlet and keeping an old folk art alive.
“It’s not about making a lot of money,” Norton said. “It’s about being able to reach people in another way, besides using words.”
After all, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said that music is the universal language of mankind. So thanks to a fiddle teacher, a fundraiser, and a generous community, many on Long Island now have an opportunity to learn how to speak it.