FIDDLER in the HOUSE: Blog

Daniel Kelly-pianist/composer, Gretchen Koehler-fiddle, Matt Pavolka-bass, Jean Rohe-vocals, Rob Garcia- percussion, Joel Harrison-guitar

Daniel Kelly-pianist/composer, Gretchen Koehler-fiddle, Matt Pavolka-bass, Jean Rohe-vocals, Rob Garcia- percussion, Joel Harrison-guitar

As a fiddler living in rural upstate New York, I didn't anticipate crossing musical paths with a jazz musician from NYC, but in 2013, I had the serendipity of meeting composer Daniel Kelly. He was commissioned by my local performance series to compose a jazz suite to honor our local farming community. (You may need to read that last sentence again.) This seemingly unusual project was perfect for a composer whose signature sound spins jazz around the recorded spoken voice. Daniel spent several years, in fact, traveling the country collecting stories of "everyday heroes," (immigrants, hurricane survivors, ranchers, etc.) creating these powerful musical tributes as part of his Rakonto series- EVERYDAY HEROES: Listening to America.

I met Daniel while he was in the research stage of his "North Country" project; recording in depth interviews with various farmers. In an effort to understand the essence of a region, he sometimes talks to local musicians about the music scene. Being the town fiddler, I was called upon as his folk music resource. As we sat together, I told him stories about our regional traditions and played him some tunes that I hoped might inspire his work. He then headed back downstate where he began to edit hours of verbal sound bites and compose his musical reflection.


Daniel returned a few months later to present the premiere of Voices of the Farm- A tribute to the Farmers of the North Country. Despite the two feet of snow that fell that day, the theater was packed full of folks, all curious to hear their neighbors' voices. As a bonus for me, Daniel decided that this particular Rakonto would best be served with a guest fiddler performing with his jazz band. Old fiddle tunes peppered the concert, as a variety of voices and jazz improv intertwined to paint a soundscape of Northern agricultural life. The suite was illuminating, funny, poignant, and beautiful.

Needless to say, the concert was a resounding success, and had a profound effect on the community. Friends approached me for many months after, recounting what made them laugh (and cry) about the show that celebrated our beloved North Country. I was so pleased that, in subsequent years, Daniel invited me to join him on stage to help tell the stories of other rural areas in the Catskill and Adirondack regions.

Please enjoy the video below, which shares the highlights of his diverse 2014 season, including footage of me fiddling (and my son step dancing) in Potsdam, New York. To learn more about his Listening To America (Rakonto) projects visit :

In a frenzy of activity in first half of 2014, Daniel Kelly created 5 new Rakonto projects - each one culminating in a final concert that featured the voices and stories of people in five different communities throughout New York State.