Taylor Buckley on Sept. 30 was named the first-place winner in the championship division at the Montana State Old Time Fiddlers Association competition, where 33 fiddlers ranging from age 5 on up competed for top state honors.
Judges Jesse Maw of Salt Lake City, Utah, and Tobi Magruder of Great Falls evaluated the contestants as they each played three memorized pieces, including a hoedown, a waltz and a tune of their choice.
Each fiddle player was accompanied by other musicians on guitar, bass fiddle or piano (keyboard). Other top finishers in the championship division were Shelby Murdock in second, Isaac Callender in third, Grace Christensen in fourth and Kelly Buckley in fifth.
The MSOTFA is a statewide organization made up of some 400-plus fiddle players who keep this traditional form of community music alive through regional jam sessions, a two-week summer Fiddle Camp at Monarch, a youth contest in Dillon, an annual convention and the state championship contest.
James McMillan of Bozeman, a former dean of the Montana State University College of Arts and Sciences and a microbiology professor, is in his second term as president for the organization.
McMillan said the contest went well again and drew a great audience to the Choteau Pavilion on Saturday despite several other events in town last week, including the Choteau High School Homecoming.
Montana’s contest is open to all fiddlers, regardless of state of residence or membership in the association. In the competition, contestants each play three prepared pieces (a hoedown, a waltz and a tune of their choice).
Fiddle player Cole Flikkema of Livingston served as the master of ceremonies for the contest. He said he was pleased to see a great group of young fiddle players in this contest. “That’s good for the future of fiddling,” he said.
Sandy James of Dillon brought a number of his students to the contest while other youth came after taking part in the Fiddle Camp at Monarch. One of the neat things about the fiddle contest, Flikkema said, is that families take time out of their busy lives to slow down, to come together and to celebrate their musical talents.
At one point in the contest, three generations stood on the stage, performing together: Fred and Jeanne Buckley of Roundup, their grown son Taylor, and Taylor’s 2-1/2-year-old daughter, Maggie, who was strumming a little tiny toy guitar while her grandpa played fiddle and Taylor and Jeanne accompanied him on their own guitars.
They weren’t the only family acts. Another youth fiddle player was accompanied by her mom while youth fiddler Bronte Bennion was accompanied by her little brother, Tarquin, on guitar.
Flikkema said the fiddle organization was thrilled with the turnout at the free dance Friday night and during the competition on Saturday. The MSOTFA appreciates the sponsorship donations that help put on the event and the welcoming hospitality Choteau always extends. He said he and his wife love coming to Choteau because the town always seems so peaceful and pleasant.
Flikkema said most of the 33 contestants in this year’s contest were from Montana while just a couple came from Idaho to play here.
Neal and Diane Collins, a ranch couple from Bynum who both played musical instruments and learned ballroom dancing at Bynum Elementary School, served as the judges for this year’s dance fiddle contest (won by renown fiddler Isaac Callender of Sand Coulee).
They both said this was the first time they had attended the fiddle contest and were amazed and impressed by the level of talent.
“Anybody who likes music would appreciate what they put on here,” Diane said, adding that she hopes even more people will attend next year.
Maw, who had never been to Choteau before, said he enjoyed the drive up from Salt Lake City to judge his fourth fiddle contest and appreciated the quality of fiddle playing he and Magruder judged.
Maw has been playing the fiddle since he was 5 years old, following in the footsteps of an older brother who played fiddle. His father also played guitar and fiddle. He has competed in many contests and is now learning to be a judge too. “I think that if you’re a good performer, you are qualified to be a judge,” he said, adding that as a judge he enjoys listening to the music with a singular focus and attention to detail.
But he also enjoys the social part of fiddle contests, where people become fast friends and where there are always things to learn from each other.
“One thing that’s been encouraging to me as a judge today is to see all the different ages of the fiddle players and to see them inspire each other,” Maw said, adding that fiddle players can find friends wherever they go because of the immediate connection they make as musicians.
Results from the fiddle contest are:
•Small Fry Division — 1. Naiyah Negron, 2. Jessie Anderson, 3. Kaia Salix.
•Junior-Junior Division — 1. Bronte Bennion, 2. Katie Johnson, 3. Jasmine Salix, 4. Hannah Degerness, 5. Bethany Fee.
•Junior Division — 1. Cadhla Norris, 2. Madison Anderson, 3. Alexis Beecham, 4. Lane Gibney.
•Senior Division — 1. Fred Buckley, 2. Jim McMillan, 3. Richard Baker, 4. Chuck Kendrick, 5. Vickie Roseberry.
•Adult Division — 1. Infinity Thomson, 2. Louise Steinway, 3. Leah Farnes, 4. Lori Schreiner.
•Championship Division — 1. Taylor Buckley, 2. Shelby Murdock, 3. Isaac Callender, 4. Grace Christensen, 5. Kelly Buckley.
•Dance Fiddle Division — 1. Isaac Callender, 2. Louise Steinway, 3. Leah Farnes, 4. Katie Johnson, 5. Naiyah Negron.
•Twin Fiddle — 1. Isaac Callender and Louise Steinway.
•Anything Goes — 1. Louise Steinway.
•Youngest Fiddler — Kaia Salix, 5.
•Favorite Fiddler — Shelby Murdock.
•Favorite Accompanist — Sandy James.