Vivian Wagner - Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles Of Music

Vivian Wagner - Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles Of Music

Kensington Publishing
9780806531229. Softcover, 198 pp. (Kensington Publising Corp., 119 W. 40th St., New York, NY 10018,

As a youngster in California, author Vivian Wagner loved playing her violin. When she went off to college, however, she had been discouraged in further efforts by a professor who saw not her passion, but her faulty technique. Defeated, she says, “I put my violin away and didn’t crack open its case for many years.”

Fast forward twenty years. Living now in Ohio with her husband and two kids, Wagner finds herself inexplicably drawn to the fiddle when her son’s violin teacher shows him “Boil Them Cabbage Down.” She starts bringing her own violin to the lessons and in playing fiddle tunes she says, “I felt like I’d found something I hadn’t even known I’d lost.”

Fiddle: One Woman… is the story of Wagner’s journey back to the instrument she had loved as a child. It begins at a bluegrass festival where she meets our own John Rigsby who shows her his fiddle and points her in the direction of its maker, Arthur Connor. She visits Connor in Virginia and begins investigating various fiddle styles including bluegrass, klezmer, Scottish, Cajun, and western swing. She even attends Mark O’Connor’s fiddle camp. Along the way, she realizes that her marriage is disintegrating and that her immersion in the world of fiddling has become a metaphor for her life: she was learning to improvise. In the end, she gains the courage to join three of her fellow college professors in their indie rock group, Whisky Beach.

Written in a chatty, first-person style, Fiddle provides an enjoyable, quick read. My only quarrel is with the chapters that are inserted in the middle of the narrative to provide historical background. I found them intrusive and thought they would have worked better in an appendix. If you’ve ever been obsessed with learning a musical instrument (or anything else) you will appreciate one woman’s life-altering odyssey. MHH