Ellen Carlson is a member of the Current LNH Class of 2020. Recently, she was interviewed and featured on Fosters.com on April 7th with the accompanying story by Christopher Hislop
Residence: Nottingham, New Hampshire
Guilty associations: Director, New Hampshire Fiddle Ensemble, Fiddleheads Acoustic Jam Camp; Bands including High Range, Stone Country, Honest Millie, and others. Leadership New Hampshire Class of 2020.
Favorite Seacoast spot: The Stone Church
Average amount of sleep: 8 hours
Favorite color: I love all colors.
Here we go:
EDGE: Music. What is it good for? Why do you seek it? Why do you create it?
Carlson: I feel music is essential to life – just like keeping yourself fit, it should be as important to people’s mental and spiritual health, whether playing or listening. Research also shows that playing and listening to music helps make connections among many areas of the brain. Music has gotten me through many a tough time in my life. It connects me to others, to my family, and to myself. I feel it helps to keep me compassionate and creative.
EDGE: Fiddle. What led you to that particular instrument? What was your introduction? What led you to pursue it professionally?
Carlson: I come from a family of six kids who all played music. I was the fourth of six and when I turned 11, there were just a few instruments left in the closet to pick from and I sure wasn’t going to pick the banjo. I fell in love with fiddle quickly though. I learned from square dance players. There was a lot of music in my family and at age 12, I joined my brothers’ band (Darrell was 13, Bruce was 11). We played country, bluegrass, swing, rock, pop, southern rock, and even tried some jazz. My whole career was trying to find jobs where I would have the freedom to make music with others. While I like performing, it isn’t the key thing for me – it just helps me find people to play with and pushes me to play better. I love teaching.
EDGE: Education. When you’re not performing you also teach lessons. What’s the importance of music education? What do you enjoy about teaching the next wave of musicians? How do these experiences inspire your own approach to music?
Carlson: I didn’t start teaching music lessons until I was in my 40s. With my grey hair, I seemed to attract a lot of women who were in their 50s and older, who wanted to start playing or start playing again after raising families. A little more than half of my students are over age 50. I love teaching kids, too – I even have students who take lessons from me BEFORE school (7:30 am). There is no personal science to this, but as a former math teacher, I really felt I could tell which students took music lessons just by how they approached problem solving, were able to take constructive criticism, and listened to others. I love teaching and love being exposed to new music from my students, see growth in their overall confidence, see them start to play together, and just watch them enjoy learning. Teaching has really helped me to become more structured with my practicing and to learn to slow down slower than I can stand it sometimes to gain a clear understanding of the music, intonation, tone, timing, and feel.
EDGE: We’ve just entered some curious times recently, which, as it stands, is effecting music in strange ways. How are you navigating the situation? Are you teaching via the internet? Are you hosting any “live” events online? How is music helping you traverse these tricky times?
Carlson: I am teaching a lot via the internet and I find it so encouraging to see people who are using music to keep themselves going through these tough times. I don’t know how people do it who don’t play music honestly. I am very goal driven and have given myself some musical goals to try to accomplish within the next month or so. I am playing each night with my partner who is somewhat new at music and this is great for us. I am enjoying some of the “live” events online. I’m not hosting any events online but I am teaching and practicing a lot. I get the greatest joy from music in playing with others. This is what I miss the most. I do have to admit that I’m enjoying a slower schedule than I’m used to.
EDGE: Community. What does that word mean to you? What’s the importance of community? What do you appreciate about the one you’re a part of in this here part of the world?
Carlson: Community means so many things. Musically, a great deal of my time now is dedicated to creating communities of people who play music together. I help run and teach at many workshops that help people learn how to play together: Fiddleheads Jam Camp (23 years for us, www.fiddleheadscamp.com), Wernick Jam Camps, and the NH Fiddle Ensemble (www.nhfiddleensemble.com), now in its 11th year. The NH Fiddle Ensemble that I direct with Melissa Caron brings 110 people from all across NH and Maine together who play many different instruments. These people range in age from 9 to 86 and have wide ranging musical backgrounds. We play so many styles of music – this year we’re covering Chuck Berry, The Dropkick Murphys, an old swing song, a yodeling song, Kate Wolf, and some great jigs and reels. It is an astoundingly amazing thing to see all of these people enjoy learning and making music together. We don’t allow music stands on stage so everyone is learning this music by ear or memorization and can look at each other or the audience while performing. You can’t understand the passion that happens when people play music together until you experience or see it in action.
Unfortunately, right as we were ready to have our dress rehearsals and start our concert season, the Covid Crisis started. We have canceled or rescheduled our six concerts until the summer and hope we can do those shows. Our shows are benefits for non-profits and we have raised about $20,000 a year for different organizations. I hope we can continue to offer this win-win situation of having a place for bringing a large community together to make music while raising some money. I love the Seacoast and all that it offers musically. It’s active and vibrant and definitely a welcoming community for so many styles of music and people.