Constable: McHenry County teen fiddles away her political stress
During another tense weekend of fear, anger, confusion and protests fueled by the Trump Administration's travel restrictions on people entering the United States from seven Muslim-majority nations, a simple song rose above the din at airports in Philadelphia, Denver, Washington, D.C., and even Grand Rapids, Michigan.
"This land is your land, this land is my land," sang protesters of different backgrounds, ages, colors, heritages and religions. The singers weren't always in key, and some of the lyrics got messed up, but the performers always managed to bring it home at the end with, "This land was made for you and me."
Using Woody Guthrie's old folk song to capture the modern mood makes perfect sense to 18-year-old Georgia Rae Mussared of Richmond, a fiddling champion and anchor of the Georgia Rae Family Band.
"I think folk music is called folk music because it's music for the people, by the people," says the McHenry County teen, who goes by Georgia Rae. "Sometimes folk music does have the stereotype of being simple, and sometimes the songs are simple. But then you have more room for your emotions and how you are feeling. With folk music, you have the freedom to change it."
Georgia Rae has changed her own style during her career. She started taking violin lessons at age 5 from a teacher who used the Suzuki method, recognized for its ability to start children playing at a very young age. "But then she (her first violin teacher) went away to college and my mom found me a fiddle teacher," Georgia Rae says.
A part-time student at Richmond-Burton Community High School, Georgia Rae won the Illinois fiddle championship in 2013 and 2015, the Wisconsin title in 2014, the Minnesota crown in 2015 and 2016, and she and fiddle partner Shawn Drake won state titles in Minnesota and Colorado before winning the National Old Time Fiddlers Twin Division last year.
"I love it just as much as any violin player," Georgia Rae says of her fiddle. "I play it about four hours a day, and more in the summer when I don't have school."
The distinction between a violin and a fiddle is a matter of semantics. Teaching fiddle students three days a week, Georgia Rae says she recently recognized a song in a Suzuki violin book as "an old folk tune I know." Asked to point out the difference between a classical violin and the stringed instrument she plays, Georgia Rae says, "A fiddle, you can spill beer on."
But she recently joined the Lake Geneva Symphony Orchestra as a violin player. "I bought myself a cello a year ago and I'm messing around with that," she adds. "And I'm getting into jazz."
The Georgia Rae Family Band includes her sisters, Kelly Jo, 21, who plays smaller instruments and is the lead singer; Quin, 16, who plays mandolin, and bassist Joe Burie, 19. of Wisconsin. The group performs at 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 17, at the Elbo Room, 2871 N. Lincoln Ave, in Chicago, Tickets are $10. Visit elboroomlive.com for details.
"I've lived my whole life with a cornfield in my backyard and cows across the street," Georgia Rae says. "I'll be super-excited to play in the city."
The girls' mother, Roni, is a musician, while their father, Mark, is a member of Cement Masons Union Local 502, and "his hands are a little too beat up to tackle a string instrument," Georgia Rae says with a laugh.
"It's just going to be a place to love each other and play some nice music," Georgia Rae says of the Elbo Room gig. "No matter what you believe or think, we can all relate to the music, the universal language."
William Congreve, an English playwright in the late 17th and early 18th Century, once wrote, "Music has charms to soothe a savage breast," and Gloria Rae says folk music can be adapted to help everyone cope with the pressures of today.
"It's definitely helped me with all my political stress," Georgia Rae says. "I've been sitting in my room, playing music."