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story.lead_photo.caption Arnold Layne, 87, of Bentonville watches Emily Garoutte, 13, of Springfield, Mo., play a fiddle he made for her as the two jammed Friday at the fiddlers convention at North Arkansas College in Harrison. - Photo by Bill Bowden

HARRISON -- Emily Garoutte dreamed of tiny fiddles.

In the dream, her fourth-grade teacher gave a miniature violin to every kid in her class. But nobody else wanted theirs, so they gave them to Emily or left them behind on their desks.

"I put them all together and made a big one, and I could play it really well," said Emily, who is now 13 years old.

Soon afterward, her parents rented her a violin, and she began taking classical violin lessons.

She's now one of the young stars at the 35th annual Arkansas Fiddling Convention, where she's often performing with octogenarians.

Carl J. Wills of Valley Springs is president and organizer of the convention, which began Thursday and will continue through Sunday morning on the South Campus of North Arkansas College in Harrison. It's free and open to the public, with jam sessions continuing until about 11 p.m. today.

Wills said he's seen other talented kids come through the convention, including Alison Krauss in the 1980s.

It's important to keep kids interested in fiddle music, Wills said. It's part of our heritage as Arkansans and Americans.

"You've got to find the kids that like it, or it never works for them," he said.

Fiddlers tend to be elder folk. Wills estimated the average age of the 1,000 fiddlers at the convention to be 65 years old. They've come from as far away as Alaska this year.

In March, Violet Hensley, then 101 and originally of Yellville, was inducted into the National Fiddler's Hall of Fame. She is expected to perform at the convention today. Her music has been featured on The Beverly Hillbillies and Captain Kangaroo television programs.

But that was a while back.

Fiddle playing is a dying art in many ways, said Rosalie Petersen, 71, of Neosho, Mo.

"A lot of the kids coming up now, they're more into bluegrass," she said.

What's the difference between bluegrass and old-time fiddle playing?

"Attitude," she said.

"It's usually kind of a faster beat," she said of bluegrass. "I wouldn't want to offend any bluegrass people, but to me they're a little bit whiny. But I was raised on old-time music. Old-time came before bluegrass. Old-time music was anything up to 1930."

To make bluegrass, Garoutte said, "You add a banjo and you make it faster."

About 200 kids attended the convention in 2012, Wills said. This year, he's expecting about 50.

Part of the problem is he's had to change the schedule to accommodate events at North Arkansas College. The convention used to be held during spring break. Since 2017, it has been held in mid-May, when some kids and teachers are still in school. It will be in mid-May next year, too.

Wills said the convention drew about 3,000 people in 2012.

Coy Mann, 78, of Rogers, said some people he knows in Missouri and south Arkansas won't be attending this year. Many of them are schoolteachers.

"School's not quite out yet, and they can't make the 300-mile trip," he said.

Mann, who plays a dobro- style resonator guitar, said he played from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the convention Thursday.

Arnold Layne, 87, of Bentonville, was playing fiddle at the convention Friday. He has made 279 fiddles.

A couple of years ago, Layne met Garoutte at an event in Springfield, Mo., where she lives.

He asked if she played violin, and she said yes. Layne asked her to play him a song. About five songs later, Garoutte had pretty much exhausted her repertoire of non-classical violin songs.

But Layne was moved by her performance.

"He said, 'I can tell you've got talent,'" remembers Teresa Garoutte, Emily's mother. "'If your parents bring you to my house in Bentonville, I'll give you a fiddle,'" she remembers him saying.

So they went to Bentonville, where Layne had more than 100 fiddles. Garoutte played several and picked out one with a knot on the front.

"He just had tears in his eyes when he gave it to me," she said. "He thought I had a lot of potential."

Layne said he's given away about a dozen fiddles. He likes to encourage talented kids who like the old-time music he likes.

"She told me about a dream she had and about little bitty fiddles," Layne said. "I said, 'Honey, if you come down to my house, I'll give you a fiddle that's big enough to play. I know they can afford fiddles, but I wanted her to have one of my fiddles, so I gave it to her and I think she likes it.

"Stuff like that just does me a lot of good," he said.

Metro on 05/19/2018

Print Headline: Fiddlers keeping art form alive; At convention, older players welcome young into the mix

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