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Saturday , 5 December 2020

St. Paul fiddler promotes music with podcast during pandemic

With the collapse of in-person concerts, professional musician and world famous fiddler Calvin Vollrath has had to pivot to stay relevant since the beginning of the pandemic.

“Our profession ran into a brick wall. It was like, boom, it was done, it was over,” said Vollrath, who produced a concert for YouTube in May to promote the album he finished the day before the pandemic was called in March.

The first episode of his podcast “The Story Behind the Tunes” was released on Nov. 15.

“Since then we’ve had to try to find a new way to try to make a living,” said Vollrath.

“Every one of my tunes has a story. So when I would put on my shows, the stories were just as important as the music. People loved the stories,” said Vollrath.

While the first episode doesn’t follow a strict chronological order, it does start with the beginning of Vollrath’s musical career. He received his first fiddle on Christmas morning 1968 when he was eight years old. He learned The Citadel Waltz and Jingle Bells the same day, and not long after that began playing with scales and patterns that reminded him of ladders.

“I played it for a few months and nobody ever said they had heard that tune before and so I went, you know what, I think maybe I wrote that,” said Vollrath. He called the song the Wabamun Breakdown after the town where his sister lived and featured it on his first album.

The podcast, which is being released for free and will have a new episode every week, features Vollrath telling the stories of the people and places that inspired his music, followed by the songs themselves.

“I’ve got the recording studio. So I just started going. Here’s a tune. Here’s a tune. And, you know, I think I did six or seven tunes and stories. Well, it was 38 minutes, I thought well, that’s probably long enough for one episode. But I’ve got 800 tunes,” said Vollrath, who has already started work on the next episode.

“I’ve been to France and all the many European countries and spent lots of time in Shetland on tour. And so this morning, I made a list. I’ve written, I don’t know, 20 tunes or something for people in places in Shetland. So today, the whole theme was the Shetland inspired tunes.”

He submitted the first episode to PodBean, which hosts podcasts and helps distribute through all the major media players including Apple Podcasts, Amazon, and Spotify.

The podcast went live on a Sunday evening and by Monday morning, “I had emails and text messages and phone calls from around the world from my fans. They’re so thrilled they just loved the podcast.”

Vollrath said he hopes by sharing the stories and the music in a new format he’ll be able to grow his fanbase and sell more of his music.

A prolific producer, Vollrath has recorded 71 albums since 1982 including music for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and is continuing to compose and record at home in his studio.

“This year I’m recording an album with a bunch of my fiddle buddies, heroes, peers, whatever you want to call them, from around Canada and the United States. I’ve composed the first half of a tune. And I have sent them each the first half of the tune, and want them to write a second part. So I’m collaborating with 12 or 13 different fiddle players right now,” said Vollrath, noting he’s already received a handful of tracks back and plans to produce an album of pandemic duets.

“Then I played the tune in its full length. And I build a band around it with piano and bass and guitar and mandolin and whatever else is needed. And then I played my real fiddle part and I send it off to them. And they play along with me in harmony, or in unison. We’re going to create our own solos where everybody gets featured, every tune is going to be a little bit different.”

About Meredith Kerr

Meredith Kerr moved to St. Paul for a career in journalism and morning radio in 2014 expecting to stay for six months to a year. Since then, she has put down roots in the form of a husband, a mortgage, two babies, and a poorly behaved dog. She continues to work as a reporter until such time as she finishes her book and becomes fabulously wealthy from the royalties. Meredith also serves as a member at large on the St. Paul Library Board and volunteers as a Beaver leader for the 1st St. Paul Scout Group.