Denver Bar Association
September 1999
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Fiddling Around After Work

by Karen Bries

Vicky Bunsen and Joel Hayes have found a way to develop their aesthetic sides while enduring the intellectual rigors of being lawyers—through fiddling.

Bunsen had always thought she’d like to try a musical instrument, but kept putting it off.

"I just thought to myself: This is crazy. Why am I waiting so long? If I keep this up I will be 60 or 80." So she just started learning.

Bunsen, 43, assistant city attorney in Westminster, picked up an old violin while rummaging through a closet three years ago. She liked the sound of bluegrass and traditional folk music, so she set to work.

Of course, she didn’t just pick it up. She had played classical violin back in her school days. She says she learned fiddling from kids’ music books, friends and listening to recordings.

At first, she played with other beginners, but then forced herself to play with fiddlers at a more intermediate level.

"I feel like I make myself do better when I play with others in public. It pressured me to do better." Bunsen came to love this music and started going to Contra dances, which are similar to square dances, but the music can be much faster. She would dance and watch. Soon after, she knew enough people to start the band. After she felt up to playing in public, they searched for a place to play at Contra dances.

There are a lot of good fiddlers out there, so getting play time wasn’t easy. As an answer to this, Bunsen and her band, called "Plays Well With Others," started their own Contra dance. The dance is at the Westminster Grange Hall on the first Saturdays of each month from 7-10 p.m.. Adult admission is $5 and kids are free. There are refreshments and it’s a smoke-free environment.

She hopes others who are bored with seeing movies and eating out on weekends will try a Contra dance.

"I saw two 14-year-olds come without their parents on a date. I hope to see more of that."

She has a message for those lawyers out there wanting to try a new hobby: "Just pick up an instrument and try it. Be patient. It’s a stress relief and a great way to develop another side of yourself."

Joel Hayes has been fiddling since 1989. He is a lawyer at the Legal Center for People With Disabilities and Older People and finds fiddling a great way to be something other than a lawyer. Like Bunsen, he played classical music on a violin as a kid and some guitar.

Fiddling in America started in the south, when slaves would play, according to Hayes. It moved north to the Appalachians. The music varies greatly by region and country and was influenced by Celtic music. He found his "calling" when he started to become interested in bluegrass music. He went to see Doc Watson play at a festival. Watson played a guitar, but the type of music he played made Hayes, 38, want to pick up a fiddle. The music he played was similar to songs Hayes’ father strummed on a guitar to him when he was a child, but much more intense and upbeat.

Hayes does not play in a band but makes appearances whenever he can. Both Hayes and Bunsen organized the Planter’s Moon Festival, held on a ranch in Gold Hills west of Greeley. Hayes gets the talent and Bunsen or-ganizes the singing and playing workshops.

Hayes’ also played in West Virginia, North Carolina and Ireland at different festivals and to learn new music. In Ireland, Hayes remembers being practically forced to play at the local pubs.

"Musicians there wanted me to play with them and be a part of their culture, and they really wanted to hear American fiddling."

Fiddling is a tradition that is generally passed down, and it’s not only an instrument, it’s part of a culture. "You are basically expected to honor the tradition by learning to play with someone else," Hayes says.

He remembers a time when a 75-year-old man in West Virginia played with Hayes in a festival, then invited Hayes to fiddle at his home until 4 a.m. Hayes says, "That’s my goal. To play at age 75 until 4 a.m. to a man half my age."

Hayes recommends experiencing fiddling at The Denver Contra Dance at the Temple Events Center on Pearl and 16th Street. It’s on the first and third Friday of every month and costs about $7 to get in. The dance starts at 8 p.m., and there’s a free dance lesson at 7:15 p.m.

Some parting words from Hayes: "These Contra dances are geared to letting people enjoy themselves, whether they’ve been there once or a thousand times. They are really for the community, so I hope people get involved and have some fun."

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