Music News & Reviews

The 'violin solo' takes on whole new meaning

FRANKFORT — Sadie Meyer acknowledges she is a bit of an oddity in Kentucky.

"I've gotten some points and laughs, and I'll hear people say, 'Is she really playing a violin up there?'" she said. "It is very different, and I know that."

Strategically placed amid flutes, clarinets and baritones, the 14-year-old high school freshman stands out when she lays bow to strings and the melodious violin sound merges with the blare of horns and percussion as the Franklin County High School pep band rouses the crowd at basketball games.

She is, in fact, the only violinist in any Kentucky high school band, at least as far as John Stroube, executive director of the Kentucky Music Educators Association, knows.

"What's happened over time, and it keeps changing, is that the concert band has a standard instrumentation," Stroube said. "People who write music for bands to play know what to expect, and band purists would say you shouldn't have a string color in the band."

He said the only stringed instrument considered acceptable to a band is the string bass. But Stroube thinks Franklin County band director Dave Shelton has made a bold, quality decision to invite Sadie and her violin to be a part of the Flyer band sound.

"For a teacher to bring a student into the program and allow her to play and let her be a part, and let her sound be a part of the overall sound ... that's educationally sound," Stroube said.

But it's not necessarily what would be expected, Abbie Meyer, Sadie's mother, said. She said many times directors ask students accomplished in one instrument to try to learn another.

"That is typically how they handle kids who have musical ability but haven't actually worked with a marching band," Abbie Meyer said. "What an awesome musician, to see that a student was interested in music but not in learning another instrument."

Franklin County does not have an orchestra program, the most common place for a violinist to land in high school. But Sadie wanted to be a part of her school's music program, so her parents contacted Shelton, who's in his first year as director of the high school's band program. Shelton had known the Meyer family for years, and knew of Sadie's musical talent. She's been playing violin since age 4, when her grandfather, Bill Huckaby, made a one-quarter size version of the instrument for her birthday.

"We knew it would be mutually beneficial for our band," Shelton said. "It's a great opportunity for Sadie to play a different repertoire, and also to be a part of a program that has as great a tradition as the Flyer band program."

And other band members are exposed to a dedicated musician who takes her music seriously, Shelton said. On top of that, she provides a good teaching tool.

"When you start a note or end a note on a wind instrument, you can't see what's going on," he said. "With a violin bow, it's all out in the open. You can see the sound."

Sadie has been in band all year, but didn't march during marching season, simply because you can't march with a violin, and the sound would be lost on the field anyway. And one might think that the boisterous blend of horns and drums in a high school gymnasium might drown out the dulcet tones of a violin, but Sadie plays an electric violin and amplifies her sound. The difference between acoustic and electric violins, she said, is about the same as the difference between an acoustic guitar and electric guitar. Sadie has learned the music for flutes because the flute and violin are tuned alike. And Shelton has plans to feature Sadie's violin on different pieces — in both concert and pep band performances. But Shelton said having a violinist in the band isn't all that unusual historically. John Philip Sousa's band had a violinist, he said.

"The classic marches we all know and love have a violin part," he said.

But band music — particularly pep band music — is often very different from the orchestral tunes Sadie is used to playing. She practices her violin from one to three hours each night; that's evidenced by the practice mark she sports just under her chin. And she travels from Frankfort to Lexington once a week to participate in the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra.

She hopes the time and effort pay off, and plans to make music a part of her career path. Sadie plans to attend a good music school and move on to a career in music — whether it is playing with an orchestra or playing fiddle music in Nashville. For now, though, she's enjoying her time as Kentucky's only high school band violinist.

"I think it's kind of funny myself ... playing with the pep band," she said. "But I'm having a whole lot of fun."