The Arnott siblings of Otisfied will perform in concert with the Don Roy Trio on Feb. 9. From L-R: Elsie (12), Oliver (10) and Rossby (14). Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

OTISFIELD — Young siblings and fiddlers Rossby, Elsie and Oliver Arnott of Otisfield are veterans of Maine’s Franco-American folk music scene. Rossby, 14, and Elsie, 12, each picked up the violin at the age of four. Oliver, who is 10, waited until he was 6 to begin learning but he is by no means lagging behind his siblings.

They each started out by teaching themselves. After meeting famed fiddler Don Roy at a fiddle contest in Waterford the Arnotts have been learning from and playing with him ever since.

“We didn’t really have the option for lessons at first because we didn’t have a good teacher available,” said Rossby. “I started teaching myself because I liked playing. We had sporadic lessons here and there. Then we met Don Roy and started taking lessons with him.”

“I started by learning the ‘Suzuki’ method,” said Rossby. “It’s more based on the violin, on an orchestral sound. But I moved to ‘O’Connor’ because I liked fiddle music better.”

“I started with the O’Connor method,” said Elsie. “Just hearing the music, I really liked it so I started too.”

According to the kids’ mom, Nettie Arnott, the O’Connor and Suzuki methods are both appropriate for children learning to play by ear. There are other methods that focus on learning by reading music.

Oliver started with the O’Connor method, too. By then, the family had become acquainted with Roy, a fiddling legend in Franco American music circles. They began lessons with him and he invited them to take part in Fiddle-icious, an open community-based orchestra of over 140 members. Through Fiddle-icious Oliver met his current fiddle teacher, Rhonda Bullock of Fiddlehead Center for the Arts in Gray.

The siblings’ tastes gravitate towards French folk music. Elsie has learned some blue grass and plays hymns as well. And they have not limited themselves to just the fiddle. Oliver plays the spoons, Rossby plays the piano and Elsie began learning accordion about a year ago.

“Mr. Roy gave us a play accordion,” said Elsie. “He told me if I learned to play a song on it he would give it to me. I did and when I played it for him, he lent me one of his to use, a real one.”

Oliver Arnott gives a demonstration of playing spoons, “kitchen-style.” Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

“I can kind of play the spoons, but Ollie is better at it,” Rossby said.

“Anyone can learn to play spoons, if you know the rhythm,” Oliver said. “They sound good with French music.”

All three recently picked up the mandolin when a friend at their church offered them a loaner to get started with.

“The mandolin has the same tuning as the violin so he thought we’d want to try it,” Rossby said. “It’s definitely different to play but I’m enjoying it, it’s a blast to learn. We like the sound – it’s cheery.”

“They are special kids,” Roy said of his protégé. “They are disciplined and enthusiastic about their music. They absorb whatever I teach them and they take it further. ”

The Arnott kids may have similar tastes in music and instruments but they are already looking at individual pursuits for the future.

Oliver has many ideas of what he might do when he grows up. For now he is a budding meteorologist, taking after his dad who works for the National Weather Service. He enjoys working with forecasting equipment around the house, inside and out.

Elsie wants to pursue music part-time when she is an adult, but she thinks she would like to become an accountant someday.

Rossby plans to become a commercial air pilot. He has already joined the Maine Civil Air Patrol where he has a youth leadership position, helping to organize meetings and processional tasks.

For now, the Arnotts are focused on expanding their musical talents. In addition to Fiddle-icious they often perform as guests at Don Roy Trio concerts. The next will be at First Congregational Church, 301 Cottage Road in South Portland on Sunday, Feb. 9 at 4 p.m.

“We appear for some of the songs when they [Don Roy Trio] play,” said Rossby of the concerts. “When we play they back us up with their piano, bass and guitar. We pop in and out occasionally and then join them again at the end.”

And how is it to be a kid performing in front of hundreds and alongside scores of adults, not to mention with Roy, a musician with a national reputation?

“I used to be really nervous, but I’m getting better at it,” Oliver said.

 

 

 


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