April Verch Trio to Appear in Harrisburg, PA on January 13, 2013

T_AprilVerchBandCanadian fiddler APRIL VERCH will be making her way to Harrisburg, PA with her trio for a 4 pm matinee performance on Sunday, January 13, 2013 at the Appalachian Brewing Company located at 50 N. Cameron Street. The concert will be held in the Gallery, which is located on the second floor.

An April Verch Trio performance is bound to be a high energy event chock full of astounding fiddle playing, amazing step dancing and terrific three part harmony singing. The concert is sponsored by the Susquehanna Folk Music Society and tickets and information can be found at http://www.sfmsfolk.org/concerts/AprilVerch.html.

April was brought up learning the fiddle tunes and dances from her home in the Ottawa Valley in Canada. Along the way she’s also learned tunes from many other traditions. I had a chance to chat with her recently about her music, her dancing and her trio.

FOLKMAMA: Maybe it would be good for our readers to have sort of a beginner’s guide to the styles of music that you play. I know that you play some music from the area that you grew up in, the Ottawa Valley in Canada, but I know that you stretch beyond that. So I wanted you to speak to the styles of music that people would hear when they came to the concert.

APRIL: I grew up with the Ottawa Valley style and then branched out into old-time Canadian styles when I was a teenager. And I guess what best describes it now is that I’m still very passionate about traditional forms of music that including old-time American styles, and not just the Appalachian stuff but tune from Illinois and Missouri and also some bluegrass and Celtic and Western Swing. Basically we really enjoy digging back and listening to some of the pioneers of these styles and trying to take that music and putting our own spin on it so that it’s fresh but it still respects the style pretty closely.

FOLKMAMA: So it sounds like you’re kinda following the fiddle different places. Is it mostly fiddle music that you are playing?

APRIL: Actually fiddle and banjo because Cody, who plays bass in the band, also plays claw hammer banjo. Yeah, so following the fiddle and the banjo traditions I would say, probably equally at this point.

FOLKMAMA: So, does the banjo tradition take you in a different direction then the fiddle, since it has such strong African American roots?

APRIL: Just because the banjo does have different roots I think it will continue to lead us to other places and we might do more of the African American stuff. We haven’t done any of that just yet but having the banjo just opens up a few more doors to what we can do.

FOLKMAMA: I remember when I saw you spring in Montreal (at the La Grande Rencontre Festival) that you had written a lot of the fiddle tunes that you played. I was curious roughly what percentage of your repertoire is traditional and what percentage are tunes that you have written?

APRIL: That’s really ever changing but it’s probably 60% traditional and 40% originals at this point in our shows.

FOLKMAMA: Tell me about the Ottawa Valley Step Dance style.

APRIL: What makes the dance style unique is that it draws from so many different influences and countries. Some of the other Canadian step dance styles; Camp Breton and Quebec style for example draw from the Scottish and French. The Ottawa Valley style is French, Irish, Scottish, German and Polish. Those were the first settlers that came to work in the lumber camps and they were trading tunes and dance steps that they brought from their home countries.

It’s similar to Irish or tap in that hard sound and it’s based on the ball of your feet –more actually on your tippy toes as opposed to clogging where you are flat footed. The rhythms are very intricate—most of our step dancing is done to jigs and reels. Which is common to Irish but we don’t so some of the types of tunes that they might dance to—slip jigs, for example, don’t exist in the repertoire. Another thing that Ottawa Valley step dance has in common with Irish step dancing is that you learn steps and put them within a routine, so that you don’t learn to improvise that way that Cloggers would. I improvise now but traditionally everyone would just learn particular steps.

FOLKMAMA: There is an interesting quote on your website that said in essence that the music and step dancing was such an important part in the lives of the settlers and then it went on to say that music and step dancing is still very important. So where you live today is it really common for people to be aware of this form of traditional music and dance or has it just gotten eclipsed by more modern styles?

APRIL: That’s a good question. You know it’s not the same as it was when my mom and dad were my age and what they did every Saturday night was to go to a Square Dance. I think the frequency of people getting together to do it has changed, but what hasn’t is that it’s still part of people’s memories and their family histories so even people my age and younger probably has someone in the family that plays. If there is an important event in the community, there is always a fiddle there. Everyone is aware of the culture.

FOLKMAMA: In the Harrisburg community there are quite a few Irish step dance schools and I think one thing that drives these kid’s interest is the Irish step dance competitions and the chance to go and compete. Is this the kind of thing that is prevalent in your area too? Fiddle and dance competitions and the like?

APRIL: I think it is. But I don’t think the kids participate just because it gives them a chance to compete. I think that it’s more because there are not as many opportunities to get together and enjoy the traditional music and dance with other people. Especially for kids. When I went to a contest that was where I saw other kids that loved to do what I did. It was not so much the competing as it was getting a chance to hang out with other people that thought that fiddling and step dancing was really cool.

FOLKMAMA: So tell me some things about your band. When I saw you in Montreal, you had a new guitar player; he had just started with the band. And I’ve seen you maybe five or six times and I just thought that the new composition was absolutely terrific. I really, really like the sound of the group.

APRIL: Thank you and I totally agree. I think that’s what best about this group is that our hearts all lie in the same place and we have a very common vision. We all love being on the road and really love what we do. We still want to get together and play tunes on an off night or sit down and write and arrange things instead of just being worn out.

Hayes (Griffin) grew up in Ohio playing more bluegrass stuff, and accompanying some old time fiddle players there. First he studied bluegrass and jazz music at Denison University, and later he studied improv at the New England Conservatory. So that’s been cool because it’s helped to inform some of our arrangements with taking an old time tune and trying to freshen it up in that way.

Cody (Walter) started playing bluegrass bass in college, and then kinda taught himself the old time banjo and has done an equal amount of both lately. And they both sing really well. Vocals are something that we’re really been working on right now–blending and harmonies and singing together.

FOLKMAMA: So what should people expect to experience when they come to one of your shows?

APRIL: A big part of our show is talking to people and getting to know them. There is a lot of variety. I dance two or three times in each set. There is probably 60/40 fiddle to vocal. It’s a good show for the whole family. Even kids tend to stay interested with having that much mixture—and it’s really high energy too.

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