Should a modern-day call go out for "fiddlers three," the Rich sisters of Provo, are ready to answer. The pint-sized performers have already racked up state and national titles in fiddle playing, all while they're seemingly playing hooky from their classical violin studies.
Vanessa, 12, and her 10-year-old sister Joanna have both placed first in National Oldtime Fiddler contests. Eight-year-old Melinda is not far behind, placing second ahead of fiddlers many years her senior.In June, Vanessa was named "fanciest fiddler" in the National Certified Contest Division at the Weiser, Idaho, Grand National Fiddle Championships. The entire Rich family performed, including the littlest Rich fiddler, 3-year-old Jesse. The Nashville Cable Network interviewed the family after a repeat performance before the close of the competition.
At the August championship meet of the Utah State Oldtime Fiddlers, Vanessa retained her titles of "champion junior" and "junior fiddler," and her sisters claimed second- and fourth-place honors.
Linda Rich, the mother of the fiddling trio, is a dance teacher and wanted her children to study music. It was during classical violin studies that the girls were introduced to bluegrass and country music. "It started out as a reward for continuing their classical studies, as an incentive to keep working on the less interesting music," said Rich. "But the girls fell in love with fiddling. They think it's fun to improvise and break away from the too-structured sound of classical violin."
So, committed to their music, the girls set 5:30 a.m. as practice time and have kept at it since they were each 3 years old. They practice and polish their routines, which are now so professional that the girls performed as guest artists with the Jay Welch Chorale at Snowbird last summer. Since then they played at the Snowbird Cliff Lodge and at the Utah and Wasatch county fairs.
With musicians this young, you'd think a performing date would be more giggle than gig, but the three fiddlers have also played at Provo's Excelsior Hotel and at Sundance Resort.
The girls, who are members of the Utah Oldtime Fiddle Association and the National Oldtime Fiddle Association, recently performed with the Utah fiddlers at the Utah State Fair. Despite the fact that not too many fair patrons were willing to sit in the hot September sun, a standing-room-only crowd soon gathered when the littlest fiddlers took to the stage.
The girls' mother thinks their energy and vitality as well as the lively music they play make them show-stoppers. "People love to sit for an hour and listen to fiddle music where they won't sit that long for classical music," she said. "People in the audience will say, `How do they do it? How do they remember all those tunes, and where do they get all that energy?' "
With hundreds of songs and ballads committed to memory, the Rich sisters are a storehouse of American musical heritage. Already seasoned performers, the fiddlers three are off and strummin'.