Belle Starr StephI was born in Nepean in the west end of Ottawa.  My grandparents ran the Perth, Ontario Fiddling and Step Dance Competition and I was about four years old the first time my mom took me along.  I was immediately hooked.  Of course, my grandpa played the fiddle but most of my aunts and uncles were also musicians, and so I set out to join in on an old family pastime. 

Right away I began step-dancing lessons with my cousin Sandra and soon after picked up the fiddle.  Though I was taught violin with Suzuki and studied Royal Conservatory, alongside the classical training, I played with a fiddle teacher throughout my entire childhood.  My summers were spent bouncing around Ontario competing at all the fiddle and dance contests – there’s one every weekend from the May to Labour day!  People from all over would show up into these small towns with their trailers and tents, all ready to party in the park after the contests would end.  The jams would go on for days!
 
My first full size violin was made by Gregory Walk. I still play this beauty; it’s a part of me.  Tragically, the neck was stepped on during a gig ten years ago – it made my heart jump out of my chest. Luckily, the fiddle gods at Heinl’s in Toronto were able to graph a new neck on and it was back in my hands two weeks later.  
 
I’ve noticed over the years fiddlers tend to choose an instrument close to the quality of their speaking voice. My violin has a lot of low end to its tone, which I like.  I have a low voice – so my violin and me match.  She doesn’t have a name but she’s definitely a woman too.
 
My teachers taught me Canadian old time fiddling.  The kinds of tunes we played a lot when I was growing up were Don Messer’s. When I started going to fiddle camps in Saskatchewan as a kid, I learned a whole new variety of tunes from players like Calvin Volrath and John Arcand.  It wasn’t until my early twenties, when I started performing in PEI every summer, that I learned all the rocking east coast tunes.  From spending so many formative years on that side of Canada, I’d definitely say my playing has a lot of East Coast bounce and influence.
 
I got into writing fiddle tunes as a teenager but didn’t really do much seriously until a few years ago.  These days, I’ve got a lot of tunes up my sleeve and have been so honored to have Belle Starr play a few on the album.  “Arthur’s Air” was written for my best friend in school.  It was made on the occasion of his 30th birthday and, although it is a pretty melancholic tune for a party performance, he totally dug it!  “Plough the Sea” was an old melody I found on a search I made through forgotten recordings. I had written and put aside a handful of them and was excited to see this one brought back for one of the instrumentals on the album.  To me, the song feels like a post-war victory march and a return home.  

I have to say, with all the songs, it’s one thing to find a nice melody, but in Belle Starr we’re so lucky to have three fiddles that can complement each other and add beautiful harmonies to a simple starting point. It’s a good metaphor, because for me, the whole album really feels centered around the theme of “Love.” 

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