- Associated Press - Monday, November 17, 2014

KNOX CITY, Texas (AP) - What’s the difference between a violin and a fiddle?

“Well, there are two answers. The one we get from most people is that they are the same instrument,” Ryan Earthman, 15, told the Abilene Reporter-News (https://bit.ly/1GN838K).

He and his five siblings make up the Earthman Family Fiddlers. For over a year, they’ve been playing events such as country musicals and luncheons in the northern Big Country.

“But the answer that’s more fun,” he continued, “is a violin has strings, and a fiddle has ‘strangs.’”

Ryan’s mother, Larressa, said he began playing when he was 7.

“I don’t know why, but he said he would like to learn how to play the violin,” she said.

“I don’t remember exactly why,” he said. “I think I probably heard other people play the violin and thought it sounded really neat.”

Learning an instrument is hard work for anybody. Ryan said when he started he expected that he would sound good.

“But I didn’t. It sounded very bad, it was very squeaky,” he said, his sisters laughing at his admission.

“I don’t exactly remember when it clicked, but I do remember one day I looked back and said, ‘I can play the violin, it’s actually fun and isn’t as hard to sound good,’” he recalled.

With his success as an example, his sisters and brother started picking it up, too. The youngest, 7-year-old Belle, has been playing about a year. All of them started out using what’s called the Suzuki Method.

Created by the late Japanese violinist Shin’ichi Suzuki, the method teaches that students learn the music first by being exposed to it until it becomes familiar to them. An example is the first tune each of them learned on the violin, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

Another example is Ryan’s side hobby of playing movie soundtracks. The Imperial March from “The Empire Strikes Back” was an easy tune for him to recite. More unique was “Concerning Hobbits” from the “Fellowship of the Ring,” the first of the “Lord of the Rings” movies, and a piece made for a solo violinist.

Not everyone in the group wants to be limited to just playing violin. Nine-year-old Nate is thinking about learning the drums and Corrie, 13, is interested in adding guitar to her skills. Ryan said he’d like to play a little piano, and even little Belle expressed an interest in picking up the cello.

The family moved to Knox City in May 2013, Larressa and her husband both work full time at the hospital. The children had already been playing music by that point and started showing up at the local country musical in town to play along.

But then word got around.

“So then they got an invitation to come over and do a program at the Lions Club in Munday,” Larressa said. “Then it just of went from there, somebody said why don’t you come and play for our Rotary Club, or why don’t you come play for our luncheon? It’s just totally word-of-mouth, we don’t advertise or anything.”

Since they arrived, she figures her children have played at least 20 shows in the area, counting country musicals.

“It was never a forced thing, but practices are a challenge, just like with any instrument,” she said.

With Ryan, Shawn and Corrie, practice goes easier now that they are more experienced and have their confidence. But with Belle, Nate and 10 year-old Morgan, it’s more of a challenge.

“When I say it’s time for violin practice, sometimes I get, ‘Ahh, really? Right now?’ It’s still a work in progress,” Larressa said.

What alleviates that resistance, aside from parental involvement, is maintaining a soundtrack to their own lives within the home. Larressa said they keep the music playing in the background to familiarize the children with upcoming pieces and to also keep them thinking about music.

“Another thing that I feel like that has encouraged them regarding classical music are the movie soundtracks,” Larressa said. “They’ve been just really been great, we play lots of movie soundtracks.”

With almost a year and a half of experience behind them, you’d think performing onstage would all be a walk in the park by now. Not all the time, though.

“I always get nervous,” Ryan said. “I usually overthink things and since some of the songs start similar, sometimes I get mixed up. But it’s gotten better.”

Larressa said he’s got the hardest job up there.

“He has to count the rhythm to start everybody,” she said. “If he starts too fast or too slow, it can throw the song off.”

Luckily he’s got somebody he can trust. Corrie and Shawn know what to do if it gets away from him, the mark of good musicians is fixing a flub during mid-performance without anyone noticing it in the first place.

It’s also the mark of good family.


Information from: Abilene Reporter-News, https://www.reporternews.com

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