“When I was about 5 years old, my father walked into the room one day and said, ‘You don’t have an option in whether or not you will play a musical instrument, but you can choose the instrument you will play,’” Arvid Thompson recalls.
“My brother was given the same option, and he picked the clarinet and the sax. Why I chose the violin, I don’t know. I was born in Southern California, and there weren’t a lot of violin players around at the time. My father might as well have named me Sue. He called me Arvid and gave me a violin.”
Despite Thompson’s inability to explain his decision on that fateful day, music lovers from Pine and all over the Rim country are very happy, indeed, with his instrument of choice. Especially on the third Wednesday afternoon of every month, when Thompson joins a flock of fellow fiddlers for the Old Time Fiddlers’ Jam Session ? a string-plucking, floor-stomping good time that’s become as much a Pine-Strawberry staple as, well, pine trees and strawberries.
The event was created “years and years ago,” Thompson said, by Strawberry native Stan Fuller, whose family has owned Fuller Ranch for more generations than anyone can remember.
“Stan got it started as entertainment during the dinners they served at the senior center every Monday through Friday. He’s been a fiddler himself forever. He invited me to join in about two years ago, and since then we’ve had all sorts of fiddlers from all over the place come and play.”
But not just fiddlers. During any given performance, visiting guitarists, bassists, harmonica players and drummers are likely to join Thompson and his fellow regulars, Barbara and Chuck Casey, a.k.a. Trouble in Paradise, and 75-year-old Pine resident, Bob Crose, who regularly walks away with the seniors’ championship at Payson’s Old Time Fiddlers Contest.
“They’re all exceptional musicians, but Barbara is exceptional,” Thompson said. “And she likes to play second; she’ll back up anybody who’s playing, and that’s a real talent that most people don’t appreciate.”
Another unappreciated talent, Thompson said, is a violinist’s ability to evoke music from taut horsehair.
“It’s a challenge to make a violin sound good,” said Thompson, who not only plays violin, but builds them, teaches others how to play, and participates in events such as Payson’s Old Time Fiddlers Contest, where he has shared his violin-related passions every year since 1970. “It’s like playing golf. You keep trying to make a better score. There’s no notes beyond the four strings; there’s no place that says, ‘Put your finger here.’ That’s kind of a challenge, too.”
And the challenge becomes even more pleasurable, Thompson said, whenever flocks of fiddlers congregate.
“Now, everybody plays ‘Amazing Grace’ exactly the same ? because if you don’t, you’ll get booted out of church. But that’s not the case with fiddle tunes. There’s a lot of improvisation in fiddle tunes. And everyone plays a little differently, so when you sit down with a lot of people, you develop new techniques and new ways to create the same tune.”
The tunes created during the monthly jam session, Thompson emphasized, are “all recognizable. ‘Faded Love’ is a 50s favorite. ‘Devil’s Dream,’ ‘Red Wing,’ ‘Soldier’s Joy,’ ‘Tennessee Waltz,’ some bluegrass. That’s what you’d typically hear. We take requests, too ... if we can play it. But if the person making the request can hum it, chances are we can play it.”
And chances are, the audience will be able to dance to it.
“Some of the square dancing groups come up to dance, and whenever we play ‘The Tennessee Waltz,’ you can bet that people are going to hit the dance floor and get with it.”
By the way, for those who don’t know the difference between a violin and a fiddle, Thompson has an easy-to-grasp explanation.
“The only difference is the guys who play them. One eats at Christopher’s at 24th and Camelback, and the other eats at McDonald’s.”
Ready to jam
The Old Time Fiddlers’ Jam Session takes place on the third Wednesday of each month, year-round, “from 1 p.m. until we get tired, which is generally around 2:30 or 3:00,” at the Pine Community Center Cultural Hall. Admission is free.
For more information, or to join the jam with your instrument of choice, call Arvid Thompson at (928) 476-2352.