There’s nothing quite as enjoyable for music fans as when two gifted musicians merge their talents for a singularly terrific performance.
That’s the case currently for fiddler Ben Plotnick, formerly of Calgary and now a newly-settled Nashvillian, and cellist/vocalist Kaitlyn Raitz. The two are performing in a house concert in Red Deer on July 31st.
And though they’ve only started playing folk, bluegrass, Appalachian and stringband music together this past year, they have a combined resume that speaks to a lifetime of dedication to these styles and more.
From jazz to country to classical and everywhere in between, they’ve appeared on dozens upon dozens of professional albums.
For Plotnick, 29, his extensive musical background is as diverse as it is accomplished. And with the move to Nashville, he hopes to continue to make contacts, collaborate with other musicians and explore his own individual artistry.
“It’s the centre of so many kinds of music right now,” he said of ‘Music City’. Prior to the move, he had called Toronto home for about four years. “Toronto has an impression of what’s happening in Nashville, but it feels to me that Nashville specifically has all the people who I admire the most.
“There is also a huge history of bluegrass musicians living down there which has a big influence for me,” he said. “So I think it will be very helpful for inspiration. I can’t wait to dive in – I’ve kind of had to put the whole thing on hold with touring until October,” he added with a laugh. After strings of shows in Canada, he’ll be heading over the Germany for a number of dates as well.
As for his collaboration with Raitz, who is originally from New York, Plotnick said the pair met by being on the same tour.
“We hit it off musically right away,” he said, adding that Raitz’s cello playing isn’t something that people might initially associate with folk-styled music. But Plotnick was struck by the originality of it.
It wasn’t long before they made the decision to team up for an EP, which was released this past spring and reflects what the duo is all about with its homespun, acoustic richness. Plotnick said the recording sessions were rather seamless, as both melded their years of experience as musicians into a fresh new sound that just came quite naturally.
Meanwhile, not many people can say that they’ve performed as a classical soloist with professional level orchestras, played with country bands at festivals for more than 40,000 people, studied jazz music at university and played bluegrass and old time fiddle tunes on five continents.
As mentioned, Plotnick knows plenty about the joy of making music. Last year, he was in Red Deer for a show as part of Rye & Fairy Tales with fellow multi-instrumentalist Jarred Albright.
Before that, and for several years, Plotnick enjoyed the role of educator by hosting FiddleMania events in Central Alberta, and has always enjoyed sharing his craft with local audiences as well.
Past CDs include Dancing at the End of the World, Music is not a Museum and his own solo debut The Quiet Streets. Next up for him is a release called Greenland, set for release this summer. Plotnick describes it as a ‘Texas swing’ record.
“It’s all original music and mostly instrumental,” he said, adding that several guest singers are featured on the project. Copies will be available at the show in Red Deer, he said.
For Plotnick, a passion for music was sparked early on. He was introduced to the violin when he was five years old. Both his parents have performed with the Calgary Philharmonic, so naturally music was simply a part of his growing up years.
And although he focused on classical music through his childhood, he began to experiment with other styles of music as well. He eventually became a member of the Mount Royal College’s Academy of Music program, which expanded into a five-year career with the Calgary Youth Orchestra.
“When I went to school, I studied jazz so I ended up studying three kinds of music pretty seriously – classical, jazz and the fiddle,” he recalls of his diverse background and learning experiences.
Early on, Plotnick knew he wanted to share the joys of fiddling with others, so he spearheaded what became known as FiddleMania – a summer camp which was held in Cochrane and focused on the intricacies of fiddling.
It ran for several years under his guidance.
He was also a member of the aforementioned world-renowned group – the Calgary Fiddlers. Before his 18th birthday, he had performed in New Zealand, South Korea, the UK and all across North America. After studying jazz at Humber College in Toronto, Plotnick made his way back to Alberta.
He wanted to dive right into the local fiddling scene so he promptly checked out the Celtic scene.
He recalls chatting with a fiddler who pointed out that in his opinion, melding fiddle music with other genres just shouldn’t be done. That didn’t sit well with Plotnick, but he found it to be a common belief. But it hardly proved an obstacle, as he continued to broaden his horizons creatively speaking. Over the years, he’s never wavered from his dedication to expressing himself as he sees fit – regardless of a tendency of some to try and categorize genres and styles.
For details about the Red Deer house concert, email Plotnick at info@BenPlotnick.com.
For Plotnick, after all these years, the sheer joy of performing and making music wields an irresistible charm.
“I also find it helpful to remember that the music itself has to kind of be its own reward.”