Local fiddle player Alissa Wolf did what she could to ditch her instrument, but fortunately for us, the damned thing came back. It was a concert her senior year at Durango High School. She played, she heard the applause, and just like that, she was done. That was in 2005, and the next eight years, which included college on the West Coast, followed by a job on the East Coast, she didn’t play music.
It was a long break for someone who had been playing most of her life. Wolf picked up the instrument in fourth grade – back then she was playing classical. Therefore, what is a fiddle now was a violin then. Part of her draw toward the instrument was a push from her musician and music-loving dad, the other part out of jealousy of her sister, also a musician. That resulted in a typical “kid learns an instrument life”: Suzuki method, instruction, and school band.
“I trained mostly classical because that’s all I really knew there was for violin. But once I got into middle and high school, my dad would encourage me to play with him and go to jam sessions with him,” said Wolf. “We’d mess around with songs … I think I learned from an early age there was something else out there but I don’t think it really clicked, so I kept plowing away at the classical world because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do.”
Classical is now in the rear-view mirror, and the violin is now a fiddle. Her break came to an end a few years back when her sister encouraged her to get back into the instrument via Celtic lessons. It was a rough return.
“It was so painful to pick up an instrument and remember what you used to be able to do and not be able to do it. It felt awkward, and I questioned why I was doing this. But I pushed through it. By the time I moved back to Durango, I immediately started meeting musicians. There were a few people in particular I met who really pushed me to start playing and inspired me. I really came home, started playing and haven’t not played.”
Those musicians she met included members of The Cannondolls and guitar player J.R. Cook. They’re the people instrumental in bringing her into a music scene of which she’s a big part of, as she’s now a member of Stillhouse Junkies, The Cannondolls, and the Wolf Crossing Duo. She also spent a year in the Lawn Chair Kings.
She adds a lot to whatever band she’s playing in. Time in the Lawn Chair Kings she was amplified and finding a rock ’n’ roll voice. Her other bands feature subtle but sublime playing and significant contributions to the sound.
“I would say it’s an instrument you can really sing on, you can sustain notes, and you can sustain voicing of chords. There’s so much room to move up and down the neck and create different ideas and combinations and sustain those with your bow,” said Wolf. “I love it. When I came back to the violin … I had to retrain myself to play music by ear, as opposed to reading music, and that was one of the biggest challenges. Now I play mostly just by ear. In fact, I try to never use music if I can. I’m able to create and play so much better when I just play from my ear and from my heart, and I’m not staring at music.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. [email protected]