Young Fiddler Performs with Top Artists Fiddler Roland Clark has played with Bluegrass Jam Band, Yonder Mountain String Band and the Vermont Symphony Orchestra — and he's just 12 years old.

Young Fiddler Performs with Top Artists

Young Fiddler Performs with Top Artists

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Fiddler Roland Clark has played with Bluegrass Jam Band, Yonder Mountain String Band and the Vermont Symphony Orchestra — and he's just 12 years old.


You're hearing 12-year-old violinist Roland Clark. He's recently made his solo debut with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra. He's played violin for only four years now. And he studied classical music for just two. But Roland Clark's talent is getting some notice.

Michelle Mercer brings us this profile of the young musician.

(Soundbite of violin playing)

MICHELLE MERCER: For his symphonic debut, Roland Clark walked onstage playing his violin - a small, unassuming minstrel in an oversized t-shirt and dress pants. During difficult passages, he bent his sandy head and twisted up his mouth. At the finish, he nervously stuffed the hand in his pocket and lurched into a vow. Classical stage presence is as neutral in this classical performance. Still, he liked it up there.

Mr. ROLAND CLARK (Violinist): Yeah. I mean, it definitely, it's - it feels good, a lot more than just being, in like a room with even just a piano. It's a lot better when you got all of these people behind you that are, you know, really good.

(Soundbite of fiddle playing)

MERCER: That's Roland soloing with the Yonder Mountain String Band, a bluegrass jam band.

(Soundbite of fiddle playing)

He had the chance to play with the group last fall when he won a fiddling competition. Roland has been making quite a name for himself in folk and bluegrass circles up in Vermont.

Unidentified Man: I feel younger already.

MERCER: Roland has never been a beneficiary of the Suzuki method or training with classical virtuosos. But his father, Gary, says, his proclivity was clear from the start.

Mr. GARY CLARK (Roland's Father): I think it was after the second or third lesson. There was little fiddle tunes that he'd be thought, a beginner's one called "Liza Jane, I think it was on the key of A, and it has this B part that just plays this one sort of high note, or at the time it seemed high, on the E string. And he kept walking around just saying, I love that. Listen to that. I just love that. I love that note. Listen to that note. And I sort of thought, wow. That's, he's pretty into it, you know?

MERCER: When teacher Mary Gibson started working with Roland on classical technique, she says she basically just tried to stay out of the way.

Ms. MARY GIBSON (Roland's Teacher): The first thing that I always think about with Roland is almost like a Hippocratic Oath. I just don't want to do any harm. Just, do no harm. There are many students that I work with that I feel like I'm slugging them through the water. And Roland is just skipping on the top of the stones.

(Soundbite of song "Green Mountain Variations")

MERCER: Roland did glide through the first piece of his symphonic debut, an adaptation of an old fiddle tune by Vermont composer Peter Hamlin called "Green Mountain Variations." But the moment of truth was his solo in the second part of Fritz Kreisler's "Praeludium and Allegro," a piece that's bedeviled many a violin student.

(Soundbite of song "Praeludium and Allegro")

Mr. CLARK: Oh, I definitely got like really frustrated. I mean, I got, also, just kind of stressed out. I mean, I just, it's like a lot of the parts are really hard.

(Soundbite of song "Praeludium and Allegro")

MERCER: Roland has an almost Shakespearean sense of drama in how he hears and plays music, especially the Kreisler piece. And you get the feeling there's a lot more going on in his head than he can tell you. Backstage, after the performance, he fidgeted through a description of his experience, kicking at his chair and peering up at the ceiling to search for the right words.

Mr. CLARK: I kind of imagine I'm - when I'm listening to the orchestra, I try to think, okay, what should that be? Should that be, like, a snake moving through the grass? Or should that be, you know, like, when the music starts to get, you know, there's a dan-ja-nan, like, they're getting close to the big mountain of, like, terror or they're, like, nights falling or something. It's cool.

(Soundbite of song "Praeludium and Allegro")

Mr. CLARK: It's almost, like, it's kind of weird and it's kind of scary. But it's also kind of, like, delightful. It's like, I think, I kind of feel like almost like I'm on top of a building.

(Soundbite of applause)

MERCER: As Roland's talent gains more notice, the Clark family is facing some tough decisions. Though Roland has been home-schooled, he's had a pretty normal childhood. Should he trade in his regular summer camp for a specialized music camp? For now, he's as interested in skateboarding and tracking bobcats, as he is in a violin. And by the end of his first classical performance, like most kids, Roland was just ready for something different.

Mr. CLARK: I definitely I'm kind of looking forward to a new day, you know? I'm kind of - I'm kind of tired of this. No, I don't - I just kind of like a new stage. Yeah, you know, a different place and I see some more of my friends.

MERCER: For NPR News, I'm Michelle Mercer in Johnson, Vermont.

(Soundbite of Music)


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