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Times Q&A: Hall of fame fiddler picked up instrument late in life

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WHO: Laura M. Dennis, 75, Brantingham Lake, was honored as the 2013 inductee for the New York State North American Fiddlers’ Hall of Fame in Osceola.

Mrs. Dennis, who began fiddle lessons at age 60, has presented three concerts at the Fiddlers’ Hall of Fame and performs regularly at fundraisers, weddings, funerals, county fairs, nursing homes and at church services.

She grew up on a farm near Ticonderoga, Essex County, and later her family moved to Katonah, Westchester County.

Mrs. Dennis and her husband, George, regularly vacationed at Brantingham Lake. After retiring, they sold their home in Columbia County and moved to Brantingham Lake but continued to go to Florida in the winters. But the couple plans to spend their first winter in Brantingham Lake this year.

Fiddlers’ Hall of Fame inductees, chosen by the New York State Old Tyme Fiddlers’ Association, are required to be advanced fiddlers who are known to have contributed to the preservation, perpetuation and promotion of the tradition of Old Tyme Fiddling through performing, teaching and sharing their knowledge of fiddling with others.



What attracted you to fiddle music? You began rather late in life.



“I attended concerts at the Osceola Fiddlers Hall of Fame. I’d never did any fiddling. I didn’t know the first thing about it. But I found the music to be very rousing. The rhythms, the jigs and reels and the bouncing waltzes kind of whet my desire to learn to play.

As we came here more often, a local fiddler, Randy Kerr, had agreed to teach me some of his prized Irish tunes and some old-time fiddle tunes. We would get together on a weekly basis.”



Any other learning methods?



Traveling to Florida, I ran into a lot of good old-time fiddlers, from Ohio, Kentucky and all around. We learn a lot by ear, from listening. Also, I taught myself how to read music.”



How was that done?



“I went into a music shop and bought a fiddling book and it came with a disc. I would look at the music and listen to the disc and I was able to put things together that way.”

What do you enjoy about fiddling?



“I find it very fulfilling and very important to share these old-time tunes with others so this kind of music can be passed on to future generations in order to keep this type of music going. It’s part of our heritage.”



Do you wish you had taken it up earlier?



“I truly wish I had. When I see the young people today and how quickly they learn and how fast their fingers move, I realize it would have given me a jump-start.

But I’m more serious about it at this age. I don’t have to go to work every day. I’m not raising a family and I have time to give to the music. It’s a big part of my life and my husband is one of my greatest supporters.”



He doesn’t mind you practicing around the house?



“He’ll stop everything to listen. I go into my music room and suddenly I hear a little knock on the door with, ‘Can I come in?’

We live 30 feet from the water. Sometimes I’ll sit where the view is greater, play, and he’ll just listen. If you see me, you’ll know my husband is never far. He likes to be right there and he drives me to all the events.”



Do you have a favorite fiddler?



“One of them, Ivan Hicks and his wife, Vivian, from Moncton, New Brunswick. They often do three-day shows, which we fiddlers call picnics. And during my induction, we had Donny Perkins from Chazy, New York. That was really great.”



Where would you be without fiddling?



“I really don’t know. I’m quite busy with my music. I play every day. I learn new tunes and perform at concerts, fundraisers, parties and church services. I also fiddle with several groups.”



If you have a suggestion for a Q&A profile, contact Times features writer Chris Brock at cbrock@wdt.net

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