Gretchen Koehler grew up in Westfield, Massachusetts surrounded by the rich traditions of Old Time Fiddle and New England Contra Dance music. She is known throughout the Eastern US and Canada for her contest fiddling, winning championships in seven states and three Canadian provinces. When she was 10 years old she was featured in Time Magazine, In Vermont: A Fiddlers' Contest where the author remarked that "little Gretchen Koehler gives a driving, foot stomping performance of Paddy on the Handcar" for the audience of 25,000 that was "astonishingly good." Transcriptions of her playing are in several Mel Bay American Fiddle books. She has been heard on NPR's "Thistle and Shamrock," as well as CBC Radio -- as winner of the prestigious Twin Fiddle Class of the Shelburne, Ontario contest with her sister -- and her playing is documented on dozens of archival recordings of New England fiddle contests. In 2012, she was inducted into the New York State Fiddlers' Hall of Fame and in 2014 was honored with a Heritage Award from Traditional Arts in Upstate New York.
Her releases include Parallel Lines-Celtic Fiddles (Gretchen and Rebecca Koehler) and The Fiddlers Three-Old Time Fiddle Tunes in Three Part Harmony (Gretchen and Rebecca Koehler, and Don Woodcock). Her latest CD The Waxwing features Irish fiddling with jazz pianist Daniel Kelly. For almost two decades, she has been a violinist in The Orchestra of Northern New York, and was a featured fiddle soloist in 2009, 2013 and 2016.
Gretchen has taught hundreds of students to play the fiddle through her public school teaching, clinics in the US, Canada and Mexico, and private lessons. At her studio in Potsdam, NY, her fiddlers range from pre-schoolers to grandparents and play the standard repertoire enjoyed throughout the “North Country.” She delights in passing on the tradition as it was first passed on to her: by exchanging tunes in a living room with neighbor, Craig Eastman, when she was in elementary school. She teaches by “ear” and by note, plus encourages her students to write tunes, learn about folk history, styles, sound equipment, and most certainly, jam.
Like many fiddlers, she did not have a "formal" fiddle teacher but rather learned by listening, sharing tunes and experimenting. She was fortunate to grow up in New England, a melting pot of fiddle styles and an area active with fiddle contests, dances, and festivals. As a young girl, "sitting in" at contra dances helped establish her strong sense of rhythm and music's direct effect on the listener. This sensibility carried over into trips to the Ottawa Valley where Gretchen has played for many step dancers, who enjoy her spirited and driving playing. Years of competition fiddling made her mindful of precision, while hours jamming offstage expanded her repertoire into literally thousands of tunes learned by ear. Gretchen has been fortunate to share tunes with many of her musical influences including Jay Ungar, David Kaynor, and Canadians Graham and Eleanor Townsend, Calvin Vollrath, and Oliver Schroer.
Gretchen studied classical violin at McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, which afforded her the opportunity to immerse herself in the traditional music of that region, playing at house parties in small Quebecois towns. After earning her music education degree, she taught a large orchestral program in a fine arts school in North Carolina. While in the south, she embraced Appalachian and Bluegrass fiddling and was honored several times with the title "Fiddler of the Festival" at Fiddler's Grove in Union Grove, North Carolina.
Gretchen considers herself "multilingual," being equally comfortable playing Old Time, Southern, Irish, Scottish, Cape Breton, Bluegrass, Quebecois, Ottawa Valley, as well as Classical music. When pressed to choose a favorite genre, she says she loves and values them all, but confesses that when her case opens for the day, she warms up with the intricate ornamentation of a good old Irish reel.
Her favorite musical partner has always been her sister Rebecca, with whom she has played for nearly 40 years.