Ivonne Hernandez entered her first fiddle contest at age five and although it didn’t turn out quite as she expected, she has gone on to win a number of top prizes around North America.
The contest was at the Saanich Fall Fair. Hernandez, who is from Victoria, was taught the Suzuki method of playing the violin from age three, which meant she learned the music by ear. She was gung-ho about entering the competition even though she was a classical violin player, so she taught herself the fiddle tune Turkey in the Straw by listening to it on a cassette. There were three people in the contest and all she wanted was to win a rosette ribbon, she said.
“I just remember going up the stairs, and I thought it was so big, and I tripped going up the stairs and it was outside and there was a stadium full of people,” she said. “I played my one tune and of course I got third because the other two were adults.”
At her next championship Daniel Lapp was one of the judges and he would later hand-pick her, along with a group of other talented youth, for the B.C. Fiddle Orchestra. It began as a performance troupe to entertain at the Commonwealth Games in Victoria in 1994 (where they played for 60,000 people) but it continued form there and Hernandez remembers playing at a number of folk festivals around North America. Twenty years later all those young performers are still at it, Hernandez said, working as professional musicians.
“It’s so cool cause you can see how far we’ve come,” she said. The fact that we’re still doing it and we still love it. I love that music can do that… all ages, all levels and all walks of life.”
Hernandez was the youngest member of the Greater Victoria Youth Orchestra when she was just 13 and she won the Merritt Old Time Fiddlers’ Provincial Champion for two years in a row before becoming a judge at the event at 15 years old. Hernandez also won the Grand North American Old Time Fiddle Championship a number of times.
While touring and performing Hernandez was selected to receive a scholarship from Berklee College of Music. So she moved to Boston and did a dual major in performance and music business.
A couple of years ago she and a few other like-minded, hard working musicians formed the music group The Fretless and they hit the ground running, Hernandez said.
“We wanted to do this project so we said okay, lets go big or go home, and so far it’s been a snowball effect, and it’s so thrilling for us.”
The string quartet released its first album Waterbound in 2012 and that year took home a Western Canadian Music Award for Instrumental Album of the Year, and the same year the group won two Canadian Folk Music Awards for Instrumental Group and Ensemble of the Year.
The band is made up of Toronto-based fiddler and violinist Karrnnel Sawitsky, Courtenay born fiddler and violinist Trent Freeman, who currently lives in Toronto, and cellist Eric Wright who is based in Vermont.
Hernandez said the group stands out because their of their fresh arrangements, like the Radiohead cover they did on the new album.
“We totally use every kind of unique little ability that a stringed instrument can do,” she said.
The new album features two tracks with vocals, done by Wailin’ Jennies member Ruth Moody as well as Victoria folk musician, Oliver Swain.
After spending eight years in Boston, (the latter of those she was primarily out touring) Hernandez moved back to Victoria a few months ago.
The Fretless is about to head out on a launch-tour of its second album, this one self-titled, and the Errington Hall will be the second stop on the tour on Feb. 7.
Hernandez said she sings from time to time at live shows, but the group performs primarily instrumental numbers.
After their performance at the Hall, The Fretless will continue on a tour through Canada, head down to the States and in the Fall they will begin a European tour.
The show at the Hall on Feb. 7 starts at 8 p.m. Tickets $20 at Cranky Dog Music in Parksville, at the Errington Hall, and Heaven on Earth in Qualicum Beach. Youth under 12 are $5 at the door, and under 5’s are free. For more on The Fretless visit www.thefretless.com.