Fiddle While You Work

Fiddle While You Work

Music a way of life for FHS alum Betse Ellse

Betse Ellis might not be unfailingly ebullient — but she certainly comes across that way.

“I love making music in libraries,” enthuses Ellis, who hosts a monthly jam at the Olathe (Kan.) Public Library. “We have a dedicated group of regulars, and every month, some new folks show up and often, they keep coming, too. In fact, this program has been so successful that the library now hosts a monthly concert session in addition to the jam.

“Libraries are the new community center, perhaps? Live music, reading clubs, computer access and classes, maker spaces… It makes sense, and it’s something I’m happy to be involved with.”

Ellis and her partner in life and music, Clarke Wyatt, will play the FPL Mountain Street Stage series on July 1, and she’s excited to be back — for a couple of reasons.

“We played the Fayetteville Public Library last year with our great friends and collaborators The Creek Rocks (from Springfield, Mo.), and I was so impressed with the ‘new’ — to me — library,” she says. “Having grown up in Fayetteville, the library was a huge staple of my childhood.”

Ellis played violin back in those days at Fayetteville High School.

“The word ‘fiddle’ brought up a horrible connotation,” she says, laughing, as she does often and easily. “Country music wasn’t cool.”

When she moved to Kansas City to study at the University of Missouri there, she began to play jazz, listen to eclectic Eastern music and finally got to join a rock ‘n’ roll band — but she still played “rock violin,” not fiddle. She calls singer-songwriter Alison Krauss her “gateway drug,” her introduction to bluegrass and fiddle, but then her boss at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art introduced her to “old-time music” — traditional Southern mountain music that she had never heard in her native Ozarks.

“Why’d I keep coming back to it? It’s the difference between being bowled over by someone’s virtuosity and hearing somebody play with soul,” Ellis says. “Old-time fiddle became my biggest focus. I never could have predicted that — and yet nothing makes more sense to me.”

The life of a self-employed musician isn’t an easy one. Ellis will admit to that.

“Clarke and I have been spending a lot of time with instruction,” she explains. “We both teach private students and really enjoy teaching at camps. We recently taught at a camp in Michigan (Earful of Fiddle), and later this summer, we’ll be instructing at a new camp for kids in Montana (Cascade Kids Camp).

“The Montana camp is one we’re very excited about, because it’s all about fostering excitement for music, about encouraging kids to express themselves on their instruments, igniting and building a creative and deep relationship with music,” she says happily. “Well, that’s what we live for, this ongoing journey of discovery through music.

“It’s a challenging life path,” she adds. “It’s a heck of a lot of work, multi-tasking, various ‘job positions,’ never-ending new tasks — and then don’t forget to practice, to learn new music, to grow creatively. And yet it’s what I must do. It is the only life for me.”



Mountain Street Stage:

Betse and Clarke

WHEN — 2 p.m. July 1

WHERE — Fayetteville Public Library

COST — Free


Categories: Family Friendly