Studio Visit: Kate Fritz

Studio Visit: Kate Fritz

Studio Visit appears in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. Here, a visit with Kate Fritz, who plays fiddle, banjo and guitar, sings and writes music.

Q: When did you start learning the fiddle?

A: I started just before my seventh birthday. I started playing classical music with the Suzuki method. Around the time I was 9, my mom saw an advertisement for fiddle lessons from a teacher at my school. I started to take those; they were Scottish-style fiddling, which is big in the Bay Area where I grew up. It turned out there was a well-developed community of Scottish fiddlers in the Bay Area, so I fell in with that crowd. That's where I really developed my musicianship. I continued to play classical music all through college, in quartets, chamber orchestras and other kinds of classical ensembles. Then I moved to New York City — I went to NYU. There was not that much of a Scottish fiddling scene, but there was a very robust Appalachian, old-time scene, so I started going to bars and sessions and learning from these old New York fiddlers and added that to my repertoire.

Q: And what's your repertoire these days?

A: These days, I play Scottish and Irish and old-time fiddle styles. I also play the claw-hammer banjo and the guitar, and I sing with my band, the Yellow Jacket String Band.

Q: Who else is in the band?

A: Tom Turino and Claire Johnson. Tom and I are going to record some of my original music at Pogo Studio at the end of February. I write fiddle tunes and mostly short compositions for dances.

Q: Don't you have some gigs coming up?

A: Yes, we will play at Buvons on Feb. 1, and we'll open for the Portland, Ore.-based Foghorn String Band at The Iron Post on Feb. 13. And we're going to play the Urbana Country Dance at the Phillips Recreation Center in Urbana on March 1.

Q: What do you like about fiddling?

A: At this point, I've been doing it so long, it's really part of me. I think it's the most developed way I have of projecting my spirit out into the world.

Q: Who are some of your favorite fiddlers?

A: Alasdair Fraser — that's who I studied with, and Liz Carroll and Brice Molsky. There's also a wonderful Chicago fiddler named Rhys Jones who taught me a lot when I lived in New York.

Q: What brought you here?

A: I moved here in May 2011 to take a job as assistant to Dr. Patch Adams (who lives in Champaign-Urbana). So I do nonprofit administrative and personal assistant type of work.

Q: You've traveled a lot with your fiddle, haven't you?

A: Yes, my major at NYU was Chinese so I've cumulatively lived in China for two years in 2010 and '11. I didn't have many things, but I did take my fiddle with me. It opened up a huge number of experiences when I was traveling abroad. I remember I was in Cambodia in this awful traffic jam, and our bus had broken down and it was this really sour moment. So I just busted my fiddle out on the side of the road and basically put on a show for these hundreds of people, and it started wonderful friendships and conversations.

Q: What other kinds of experiences did you have?

A: Every year for the past three years, I've traveled to Russia with Patch Adams. We go as a troupe of clowns. We visit hospitals, orphanages, prisons and mental institutions. I always have an instrument with me. When I went to Russia in late 2012, I visited with an elderly woman in a nursing home. When she saw me walk in with my violin, her face just lit up. I don't speak much Russian and she doesn't speak English, but I gathered her husband was a violin player from the pictures she showed me. When I was playing for her, she was weeping. It was a very intimate experience.