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Rochester woman fiddles her way to the top in music competitions

Teresa Walter, a classically trained musician, credits Rochester's vibrant music scene for her growth.

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ROCHESTER — Teresa Walter of Rochester has played music since she was in grade school, but it’s only been within the last year that she has discovered just how much she enjoys performing.

Up on stage, her bow dancing over her fiddle, it’s then that Walter finds herself in her element.

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"Some people just like to jam. They want to commune with everyone, but they don't care about performing, per se," Walter said. "But I love it."

“I’m nerve-wracked, but I want to be in front of those people,” she said.

And it shows.

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Since 2019, Walter, 62, has won first-place awards in five of the last six fiddle competitions she has played in.

The last one was earlier this month at the Minnesota State Old Time Fiddle Championships in Mountain Iron, Minnesota, where she took the top award in the senior division. On Saturday, August 27, 2022, Walter will take up her fiddle again in a contest at the Minnesota State Fair that will draw fiddlers from across the state.

A classically trained musician, Walter played violin in her high school orchestra in upstate New York, during which she played at Carnegie Hall and toured Europe, and in college, where she minored in music.

But it's only been within the last several years that she has journeyed from classically trained violinist to improvisational fiddle player.

Fiddler Teresa Walter
Teresa Walter has been playing the violin since she was a kid and, in the last four years, began playing bluegrass. Walter recently won the Mountain Iron Fiddle Contest and will perform at the Minnesota State Fair on Aug. 27. Walter is photographed at her home on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022, in Rochester.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

Walter and her husband, David Walter, moved from New York to Rochester in 1989, after she was recruited to work at IBM here. Though she never stopped playing, music took a back seat as she raised three children and focused on a career that included 33 years as a project manager at IBM and four at Mayo Clinic.

In her later 40s, with her youngest child in high school, Walter began gravitating back to music.

She began playing at the Salvation Army’s Christmas Red Kettle campaign at the Hy-vee grocery store at Barlow Plaza. Later, she began showing up to jam sessions at Charlie’s Eatery & Pub in Hillcrest Shopping Center. That was around 2019, and it marked the beginning of her transition from classical violin to fiddle music.

“The old-timers were there. There was more opportunity,” Walter said. “You get into a certain community, and then you hear about different opportunities, different bands.”

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Walter found her classical training, rather than being a hindrance, eased the crossover to the fiddle and bluegrass.

Though the violin and fiddle are the same stringed instrument, the approach and attitude toward playing them is totally different as is the music played by them. A violin is played in a classical context and is oriented to the notes on the music page. A fiddle stresses improvisation and spontaneity and is used in playing bluegrass music.

“I’m always learning,” Walter said. “Classically trained musicians have to learn how to improvise and play how they feel a little more.”

Walter’s attitude toward performance is also keyed to her audience. When she began to perform at Hy-Vee, she was aware that many of the customers there had never been to a concert before and showed their appreciation.

Fiddler Teresa Walter
Teresa Walter has been playing the violin since she was a kid and, in the last four years, began playing bluegrass. Walter recently won the Mountain Iron Fiddle Contest and will perform at the Minnesota State Fair on Aug. 27. Walter is photographed at her home on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022, in Rochester.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

“I just like to perform. I have nothing to lose. I do my best to prepare, because I want to make the performing band to look good,” she said.

Walter said her own growth musically wouldn’t have happened as rapidly if not for Rochester’s robust music scene, which she says offers an abundance of opportunities and support.

“There’s so much here. It’s really exploding in a lot of ways,” she said. “Any musician can plug into any kind of group. It’s very welcoming.”

Walter also calls her husband a “big supporter.” A retired Rochester Public Schools teacher who currently teaches at Rochester Community and Technical College, David video-records many of her performances, which are later uploaded to YouTube.

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Walter said she doesn’t expect to win at the State Fair. The performers there, some as young as in their teens or 20s, have an extraordinary skill level.

“Their skill level is so good. They’re gonna beat me handily, but it’s very fun to hear them and try to learn from them,” she said.

State Fair Fiddle Contest

Want to see Teresa Walter perform? She will be competing at the Minnesota State Fiddle Contest from noon to 2:45 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022, at the West End Market Stage at the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul.

Matthew Stolle has been a Post Bulletin reporter since 2000 and covered many of the beats that make up a newsroom. In his first several years, he covered K-12 education and higher education in Rochester before shifting to politics. He has also been a features writer. Today, Matt jumps from beat to beat, depending on what his editor and the Rochester area are producing in terms of news. Readers can reach Matthew at 507-281-7415 or mstolle@postbulletin.com.
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