Fiddles and fire are on my mind this week. Fiddles because I recently heard one of the world’s greatest string musicians play incredibly beautifully. Fire because I read in last week’s Citizen about the Sept. 12 blaze that burned down the 120-year-old Short Creek Baptist Church in rural northwestern Platte County.
Both are part of communities that, when all communities are put together, sustain this world. We build roads, courthouses, cafes, stores, schools and factories. A military guards our nation’s worldly welfare. But it’s the countless variety of communities — people who choose to be together to do good things in this world — that make life truly worth living.
All turns to dust without people sharing the good times and helping one another through the hard times. The Citizen report noted that after a Saturday fire destroyed the white frame church, the congregation met in the nearby parsonage to hold services on Sunday. People banded together in 1895 to build the church. They stayed together in 2015 when the building was gone.
Some things even fire cannot destroy.
I’ve been part of a musical community in the past few weeks. To get there physically, you drive south on Interstate 435, roll into Kansas, bend west on the Kansas Turnpike, follow the four lanes to south of Wichita and then make a short jaunt eastward. When you cross the Walnut River in Winfield, Kan., you see several thousand recreational vehicles and tents sprawled across the Cowley County Fairgrounds.
Pay the entrance and camp fees, drive forward, and you’re part of the Walnut Valley Music Festival. This was the 44th.
Most of the time, we simply refer to it as Winfield. You may have a co-worker this week looking weary from lack of sleep. Their thoughts may seem far away. Perhaps they are humming melodies unknowingly.
Winfield is a place where acoustic guitars, fiddles, banjos, mandolins and various other acoustic instruments rule.
A good song is prized. Human voices sing about all that is good and some that is hard. Most songs though are in the end a celebration of hope, even the blues.
Mark O’Connor is one of the greatest fiddlers to ever slide a bow over violin strings. O’Connor is also a master of various other stringed instruments. He came from very humble beginnings.
Amazingly, for a guy who’s played with all the greats from Yo-Yo-Ma to Stephane Grappelli, with classical orchestras and impeccable combos, O’Connor is still humble.
His beautiful rendering during a Winfield fiddle workshop of his composition “Appalachian Waltz” along with his wife, Maggie O’Connor, made a plain grassy hillside at an outdoor stage in a beat up old fairgrounds seem like one of the most vibrant places on Earth. And it was in that moment.
O’Connor would not be there creating that moment without a music community. He talked about fiddle technique and the importance of teaching young people. New composers and innovators are important to the fiddle community, he told the audience.
His use of the word community reverberated in my mind as I watched him onstage.
I began to think about Platte County and various groups of people, church congregations, organized groups that visit people in nursing homes, school booster clubs for sports teams, parents who take students to music and science contests, classroom teachers who vow among themselves to do their best for the kids despite bureaucratic hassles. They are people who stick together in loose-knit affiliations and make the world a better place.
I have musical friends I only see once a year at Winfield. Yet we are community, supportive of something that brightens the world.
Troubles and tragedy fill the world, national and local news, like fires that rise and fall but never completely go out. Yet onward we go because countless types of little communities make people far stronger than the flames.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.