On the heels of forming an accomplished new band, Toronto fiddler Ben Plotnick knows plenty about the joy of making music. The acclaimed musician performs at The Olive on Aug. 20th as part of Rye & Fairy Tales with fellow multi-instrumentalist Jarred Albright.
They are also performing in a Red Deer house concert and on Aug. 23rd, they are playing at the Last Chance near Drumheller.
Folks can check out the web site for more details.
The two met as ‘tween’ fiddle players in Calgary, and as part of the Calgary Fiddlers they toured the world together in a youth fiddle group.
“We were always roommates on tour, and in those years we went to South Korea, London and to the United States – we went all over the place with that group. We became really good friends – it feels like we are almost brothers,” explains Plotnick, adding that prior to coming together as Rye & Fairy Tales, they each played with several other groups.
“Rye & Fairytales really came about by just playing some of these songs together,” he said. The guys also decided that ‘only fiddles’ didn’t make much of a band, according to their web site. So they went on to learn guitar, mandolin and to sing.
Their writing draws from bluegrass, pop, folk and country, and they released their self-titled debut back in 2012.
They also relocated to Toronto at that time.
“It’s just a different music scene, and there’s a higher volume of music,” explained Plotnick, 28, in comparing Toronto with Calgary. There are also more opportunities for musicians like Plotnick and Albright, who usually would describe their music as contemporary folk.
“The writing of the songs is influenced by folk and pop music, and even Celtic music to a certain extent. It’s kind of like bluegrass with an asterisk,” he added with a laugh.
“When we have to categorize ourselves, we tend to go with contemporary bluegrass, or sometimes pop bluegrass. But it still has a lot of the same virtuosic playing and three-part harmonies and acoustic instruments, and the instrumentation is definitely bluegrass.”
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.
Plotnick 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 seriously 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.
During this time, 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.
Meanwhile, as Rye & Fairy Tales continues to move forward, he and Albright are also happy to lend their skills as session players to a stream of other artists on their respective CDs.
It’s not always an easy industry to be in – it’s not all glamour and smooth sailing.
Touring can be challenging and being in the music biz isn’t always very lucrative either.
But 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.”