Concord, NH -- Madeleine Stewart and Audrey Budington are going on to study music in college in a few weeks—Madeleine at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, where she will major in Scottish music on the fiddle, and Audrey at Berklee College of Music, on a full scholarship that is awarded to just seven students each year. And, they are both new alumni of the Concord Community Music School.
Just after intermission at her senior recital, Madeleine came onstage with a smile on her face and a fiddle in her hands. “This part of the performance will be more informal,” she said. “I would have been barefoot, but these shoes go so nicely with my belt.”
Madeleine, a senior at Pembroke Academy, had just finished playing nearly an hour of Bach, Mozart, Brahms, and Debussy on the piano. She began playing traditional Irish and Scottish tunes with Sparrow’s Joy, the Music School’s Scholarship Folk Ensemble, and she was equally in her element. Her fingers danced across the fingerboard of her fiddle and she lifted her head to grin at the audience.
A week later, on the same stage, graduating senior and homeschooler Audrey Budington brought the house down with Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” on a seven-string electric fiddle. The stage was strewn with amplifiers and instruments. The program listed Dave Matthews Band covers, ’60s folk rock, and some of Audrey’s originals that have a distinct Celtic vibe. Another genre-defying modern musician in the making.
When it comes to eclectic musicianship, Audrey and Madeleine don’t just dabble. Madeleine has won a host of traditional fiddle contests and piano competitions, apprenticed with a professional fiddler, and performed as a piano soloist at a music festival in Italy. Audrey has arranged and performed music for ballets, founded several ensembles, and shared the stage with eminent contra dance musicians. Both students have performed at the Capitol Center for the Arts and the New Hampshire Statehouse.
Madeleine and Audrey are what Music School president Peggy Senter calls “the realization of a dream”—capable, multi-genre musicians, fluent in classical, jazz, and folk music. In the modern music world, Senter says, boundaries between genres are disappearing. The twenty-first century performer has to be musically multilingual.
Though they identify as fiddle players, their musical proficiency goes beyond a single instrument. When you ask Madeleine how many instruments she plays, she counts them off on her fingers needing to use both hands. She plays the fiddle, piano, bagpipes, mandolin, pennywhistle and guitar, and she sings. “And I can kind of play the trumpet,” she adds.
Audrey fiddles, sings, and plays the piano, mandolin, and guitar—acoustic and electric. Together, she and Madeleine seem to have been taught by every teacher at the Music School.
Audrey was a toddler when she heard a classical violin piece on the car radio and told her mother, “That’s the instrument I’m going to play.” She began violin lessons at the age of four.
For Madeleine, it began with a toy piano. “I think it had one and a half octaves,” says her mother, Barbara Heggie. “At a certain point, you need more octaves.” Madeleine was five when she started taking piano lessons.
Before long, David Surette, head of the folk department at the Music School, invited them to join the youth folk ensemble. The ensemble could barely contain the two of them. “They are both so spirited,” says Surette. “For a while it was chaotic, because they were so energetic and off the wall. And we thought, ‘We have to create two ensembles, and put one in one, and one in the other.’”
Their enthusiasm drew in other young musicians and later helped spark the creation of their numerous folk and jazz bands. Fiona Shea, now a member of Sparrow’s Joy, recalls her first day at folk ensemble: “I was standing shyly outside the door, and Madeleine grabbed me by the arm, dragged me into the room, sat me down, tuned my fiddle, and made me feel right at home,” she says. “Things have never changed.”
Madeleine’s classical training made her an ace sight-reader and gave her a serious work ethic. “That striving towards perfection—that sometimes isn’t there in folk music,” she says. And those many folk jam sessions taught her not to get hung up on mistakes. “In folk music, if you mess up, it’s important to keep going, stick to the beat,” she says. When Madeleine plays a classical piano piece, she occasionally pushes her dark-rimmed glasses up with her left hand and seamlessly carries on the melodic line with her right.
Audrey’s diverse musical tastes have influenced her composing. “I am a huge fan of electronic music and dubstep. And also rock music. And Celtic music. OK, pretty much I’m a fan of everything,” she laughs. She’s currently recording an album of improvised original work she co-wrote with pianist Clayton Clemetson called The Cat Has No Time for You. “I don’t quite want a purely Celtic feel,” she says. “I want to put some sort of groove into it. I want to make it different. I want to make it mine.”
Audrey will major in music performance, and she dreams of fiddling in a genre-fusing band, touring the world, and taking in the musical styles of other countries.
For Madeleine, her exploration of genres helped her find her specific musical passion, and now she’s ready to focus on her beloved Scottish music. “I’m excited to work on something I love all the time,” she says.
It’s that irrepressible love of the music that has kept them exploring, working and diving in, regardless of genre. “They’ll never get tired,” says the father of one of the band members. “They’ll play till the sun comes up.”
For more information, go to https://www.ccmusicschool.org