Studio Visit appears first in print, in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. Here, Melissa Merli visits with Robin Kearton, fiddler/violinist and founder of Community Center for the Arts. In the Sept. 16 newspaper, we'll have a visit with harmonica player Terry Cottrell of Danville.
Q: I heard you won the fiddling contest at the Illinois State Fair. Was there a category for professionals?
A: They call it the Fiddler and Banjo Open Division. There were maybe a dozen or so contestants. I won second last year and third the year before. One of our students, Dante Freund, placed third in the fiddler youth division this year.
Q: When did your Community Center for the Arts (C4A) open?
A: Fall 2006.
Q: What kind of classes do you offer?
A: Lots of group classes in music for all ages. There's one called Guitar from Scratch; if you don't even know how to tune your guitar, you can come to this class. Rob Krumm leads it; he's terrific. He just makes them play; he just pulls it out of them. And Matt Croisant is leading a group ukulele class — it's through a new partnership we have with Parkland College. We also have group classes in jazz combo, and we're starting a string academy for young players. And then we have our ensembles — the Bow-Dacious String Band for kids age 6 through high school and the Cretaceous Band for adults. And we have a new class for kids in string ensemble called Bow-Zone. And then we're just starting a mixed-class ensemble for adults — any instrument is welcome, but it's for classical music. We're also starting a new program this year: circus skills; Joe Reichlin is teaching that. And Ivy Corson is teaching video production and editing. So we're starting to get the other arts in there. That was always the goal.
Q: Why did you start C4A?
A: I envisioned artists of different disciplines coming together to collaborate and enhance each other's artistic pursuits. The idea was to start with a community of artists and expand that community through teaching. The heart of our mission now is to build and strengthen the community through shared experiences in the arts. That shows up in our ensembles, particularly the people who come to play music and make friends here and then do things together outside of class. And it happens in our faculty, too. We've gotten several new groups together because the right people are teaching together now.
Q: How many people teach here?
A: Fifteen or so. On the classical side, we have three principal violinists from the Champaign-Urbana Symphony and The Prairie Ensemble: Igor Kalnin, Aaron Jacobs and me. And we have former C-U Symphony concertmaster Dorothy Martirano on staff. And we have Sam Araya, the cellist from the Anasazi Quartet. Another new faculty member, Doug Schroer, is teaching harmonica, and we've just picked up Sam Payne — he's teaching guitar and mandolin. He has a terrific energy. He, Tom (Faux) and I have been playing together a little bit. And Dyke Corson is teaching pedal steel here.
Q: Did your starting Bow-Dacious lead to C4A?
A: Yes. Bow-Dacious started in 2003 and led to the school, which is nonprofit.
Q: How long have you been in C-U? And what ensembles do you play in?
A: Twenty years this past July. I play with the C-U Symphony, The Prairie Ensemble and we have a string band we call the Flexible Flyers. And, of course, the Bow-Dacious String Band.
Q: Where did you live before you came here and how did you end up here?
A: I grew up in central Florida and was in south Florida, freelancing. I came here to go to graduate school in viola performance. I wound up taking the teaching training course in the Alexander Technique. I became involved in the community and stayed.
Editor's note: For more info on the Community Center for the Arts, visit http://c-4a.org/ or call 384-5150.