Teen fiddlin' her way to the top
April 20, 2010 at 5 p.m.
Updated April 20, 2010 at 11:21 p.m.
HALLETTSVILLE - Sixteen-year-old Mia Orosco has a hickey on her neck, but her parents don't mind.
The red mark is from hours of practicing the fiddle, an effort that paid off with a win in the 2009 Youth Division of the annual Fiddlers' Frolics.
"All the great ones have them," said Stuart Fryer, one of the organizers of the 40th annual Texas State Championship fiddle contest. "They just play a lot, part out of compulsion and part because they just really like to play."
Mia, who will compete in the adult division this year, loves to play, she says.
"I practice at least an hour a day, but usually two or three hours," said Mia, whose father, Onofre Orosco Jr., is a 1964 graduate of Refugio High School.
"Before a contest, I'll go and have a five-hour session with my teacher, Joey McKenzie," Mia said.
She began playing classical violin at 6 and became interested in fiddling after hearing music from George Strait, who has a fiddle in his band.
"I thought it would be cool to try fiddling," she said. "When I was about 12, dad and I went to a fiddle contest in Groesbeck. I just watched and listened. It was completely different from the classical I had been playing. I loved it."
The biggest difference in the two disciplines, Mia said, is the bowing.
"Bowing separates fiddling from any other style," she said. "The biggest problem that a violinist has trying to fiddle is bowing."
The conversion to fiddle bowing is something Mia has taken to, describing her style as "energetic."
"Every good fiddler plays with drive and she plays with drive," Fryer said. "I know it when I hear it - when the fiddle is just a nano-second ahead of the rhythm guitar."
Mia, who is home-schooled by her mother Tina Orosco in Lorena, a town of about 1,500 residents 13 miles from Waco, said the fiddle appeals to her on a number of levels.
"I've always loved the range of emotions you can get out of a fiddle," she said. "I love what the fiddle can portray. It's a huge range."
Until recently Mia used her great-grandfather's fiddle to compete. They found it broken into several pieces in her grandfather's attic in Refugio. A restorer in Austin put it back into playing condition.
She won the youth division using it last year, but this year will compete with a loaner.
FOND OF FROLICS
The teen loves competing in Hallettsville. This year will mark her fourth trip to Fiddlers' Frolics.
"If you ask any involved fiddler what the three biggest contests in the country are they'd say in no particular order, the nationals, the grand masters and the fiddlers' frolics," she said. "We get the highest caliber fiddlers here from Washington to Boston."
"I like playing in it, but more than anything I just love getting to see fiddlers I'd never get the chance to hear otherwise," Mia said. "You are exposed to such an enormous variety of fiddle styles and tunes."
Others, too, see the appeal of the Hallettsville event.
Kenneth Henneke, event co-chairman, said he expects 15,000 visitors to Hallettsville during the four-day event. Between 125 and 150 fiddlers are expected to take part in the various competition categories. More than 20 states will be represented including a contingent of 20 from Washington.
Cherri Fryer, also one of the event organizers, said the economic impact of Fiddlers' Frolics is significant.
"This is not just another little local event," she said. "This is the only event I know of in this area that draws people from all over the country."
"This is the busiest time of year for retailers in Hallettsville," she continued. "The motels here and in the area are full and we keep adding camper spaces."
"It's a community event," said Henneke. "Those involved see it as an extraordinary, historic event."
The weekend also includes a carnival and arts and crafts show.
Fiddlers' Frolics is not only the Texas State Championship competition. It is also a Gone to Texas event for those from out of state, the youth division, a senior division and the popular Anything Goes contest, where fiddlers' show off a variety of tricks and styles. There is also an accompanist contest for guitarists.
The fourth annual Songwriters' Serenade draws entries from across the country. The 25 finalists, including former Victorian Ben Livingston, now of Austin, Clarence New of Hallettsville and Jim Starr of Wharton, will square off with preliminary competition at 6 p.m. Friday. The top 12 advance to Saturday's 1 p.m. finals.
On Sunday at 10:30 a.m., P.T. Riley of Victoria and Bobby Christman of Pottsboro will be inducted into the Texas Fiddlers' Hall of Fame.
While not a hall of famer yet, event organizers see big things ahead for Mia.
"She's a rising star," said Stuart Fryer. "She has a legitimate shot at winning here. Maybe not this year, but she's only getting better."
Mia knows becoming the first woman to win the Texas State Championship, especially at age 16, will be a challenge.
"I am excited to see how it will turn out," she said. "I'll try to work my way up and get better. I am still growing as a fiddler."