Fiddler’s contest continues to grow

BY KENLEA HENSON
Former Reporter
09/07/2017 04:00 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Visitors at the Cherokee National Holiday fiddler’s contest listen to a fiddling collaboration featuring Cherokee Nation citizens Regina Scott and Jerry Bigfeather. The contest was held Sept. 2 at the Talking Leaves Job Corps gymnasium in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. KENLEA HENSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Nation citizen Regina Scott received first place in the juniors, open and no-hold barred divisions. Scott was the only contestant to receive three first place awards during the 65th annual Cherokee National Holiday fiddler’s contest on Sept. 2. KENLEA HENSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Fiddlers from far and wide, young and old competed in the Cherokee National Holiday’s fiddler’s contest on Sept. 2 at the Talking Leaves Job Corps gymnasium.

Jerry Bigfeather, fiddler’s contest coordinator, said fiddle music did not begin with the Cherokees but it has been a part of culture since before Oklahoma statehood.

“Fiddling was part of the Cherokee culture after the removal. Cherokees had to adopt the white man’s ways and part of that was through fiddling and square dancing,” Bigfeather said. “This was way back before we had TVs or electricity. Square dancing and fiddle music was a Saturday event, a social gathering that Cherokees have been a part of ever since.”

The fiddle contest has been a part of the holiday events for many years. However, it wasn’t until 1998 when Bigfeather and a group of fiddlers helped bring the contest out of retirement after a 10-year hiatus. Now fiddlers come from all over to play, compete and listen to fiddle music.

“Many people travel from out of state to compete and listen. There are folks from Minnesota that have come to the contest for 12 years in a row,” he said. “I try to take time to meet and greet and visit with as many folks as I can before and during the contest. I have made many friends like that. I have said a few times that it’s like a reunion because I see the same faces year after year in the audience.”

This year 20 fiddlers competed for more than $3,300 in prize money within five divisions: a Little Britches division for ages 10 and under, a juniors division for ages 11-17, an old timers division for ages 62 and over, an open division and a no-holds barred division for all ages.

Cherokee Nation citizen Regina Scott, 15, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, played in the juniors, open division and no-hold barred divisions. She placed first in all three divisions.

“It felt awesome to find out I won in all three divisions. I mean it’s really fun to win, but it’s also awesome to be here and see and hear the people I see every year play again,” she said. “I don’t think I will use it (fiddling) as a profession, but I will definitely keep up as a hobby and on the side because it is really fun and you meet some really great people.”

While each participant plays the judges face away from the contestant and a number is announced rather than a name to ensure fairness.

“We try to be fair and have a fair contest to determine the winner in each division. A winner is not necessarily who is the best but who had the best score on that day. Sometimes there is only a one- or two-point difference between winners, and next time it may be the other way around. So when a fiddler does not win prize money, many times they just say, ‘maybe next time,’” Bigfeather said.

The contest offers visitors a cool place to get out of the heat and a chance to hear an old style of music that isn’t heard every day. Bigfeather said the music dates back nearly 200 years and is a traditional style of dance music that was common in the “old days.”

“People come to listen because fiddle music is something you don’t hear on the radio or see on TV. Folks tell me every year that they enjoy the friendly relaxed atmosphere and the talented fiddlers that come to compete. I hear stories of how someone’s father, mother, grandfather, grandmother or uncle that used to play the fiddle and how it brings them back good memories when they come to the contest,” he said.

Bigfeather said he aims to “promote and preserve the art of fiddling,” and by holding the fiddling contest annually he hopes to find someone else who will continue that goal in the future.

“This event seems to continue to grow. We see new fiddlers every year. We see a large number of the same ones coming back, and we see a large number of familiar faces in the audience that come to listen year after year,” he said. “My hope is someone will step up and take over my place when that time comes, but I really would like to see it continue.”

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