Interview - Catherine Moser

Nov2006: Catherine Moser (Vol.2 No.11)
Interview recorded by S.Kenan on 20/10/06

Catherine, or Cat as she is called by her friends, is currently in several folk bands that are playing on the Australian folk circuit. Cat is equally at home playing traditional Irish dance music as well as American Old Timey fiddle music. Inside: Exclusive, an interview with Catherine.

Q. What is your earliest memory of the violin?

A. Probably when I was about 8 years old. My dad brought one home for me, just out of the blue and I started learning after that.

Q. Where were you brought up?

A. In Red Cliffs, near Mildura in northern Victoria. My parents had a farm growing mainly wine grapes.

Q. Did you get classical lessons?

A. Yes. I had lessons for about nine years and had lessons pretty much every week over that period.

Q. Who was your teacher?

A. I had three different teachers over that time. The second teacher I had was awesome actually. She was great and she also took a string group. She got a whole bunch of her students playing in an ensemble, cello, viola and all that. It was great. I spent only two or three years with her but she got cancer and died.

Q. Your dad was learning violin during this period as well? Did you show him anything and did you play together?

A. Yes, a little bit. I think I would have shown him a thing or two. I remember him coming along to a few of the lessons I was having, just sitting in on them and taking it in. The lessons were half and hour I got up to Grade 7 violin.

Q. Did you enjoy the lessons?

A. Yes. I loved it. But I sort of got sick of it after a while when I discovered folk music and all the other styles you could play. When I was 15 I guess, mum and dad took me to Maldon Folk Festival (Victoria) one year. It was really cool. I saw heaps of fiddlers.

Q. Did anyone stand out?

A. I remember The Mongolian Fishmongers who were really big at that time. They are a Geelong based band. The fiddler was really good, Matis. He has a really Jazzy kind of style.

Q. How did you switch to fiddling from classical?

A. I remember listening to a couple of CD's and there was a guy called Michael Oates who still lives there (in Mildura). He plays concertina and he is from Ireland, he plays lots of tunes. He made heaps of tapes for me, Kevin Burke and lots of fiddle players like Martin Hayes, Tommy Peoples and Angus Cameron, a Scottishy sort of fiddler.

Q. How did you learn to play, did you have to rely on your ear to pick up tunes off the recordings? Was this hard?

A. It was pretty hard but I bought this book, the Fiddler's Fakebook and learnt some tunes. It had some Old Timey tunes in it. I remember meeting Strat (Brian Strating) at Maldon one year. Dad introduced me to him. We were camped near them at Maldon. They must have seen me playing fiddle. Strat was saying how he had these two daughters who were playing tunes and getting into folk music as well and thought that we should meet.

Q. What year did you meet Strat's daughters, Nicola and Corinn?

A. That was 1996. Strat introduced me to them. Then me and Corinn were pen pals for years because we were really far apart. I was up near Mildura and they were down in Gippsland. Corinn was playing whistle and flute and we would send each other mixed tapes of tunes, and we would write out tunes for each other. We would meet up at festivals.

Q. Was this the start of the Beenies?

A. Yes, we started a band but we had a couple of other members in the band then as well. They were guys that came from around the same area as the twins (Nicola and Corinn Strating) We didn't do any tunes or traditionally things at all. We just sung rock songs and folky sort of stuff. This band was before the Beenies. It was about 1999 when we decided to be the Beenies and just be the three of us. I remember it was around the time of the National Folk Festival and we won the Chris Wendt Award. Ben-o was talent scouting and he saw us play. We decided it should just be us three and play tunes and make that the focus.

Q. How did the name come about, the Beenies?

A. I can't really remember, it was like an evolving name. We always got into wearing op-shoppy funky clothes and beanies at festivals and just got to call ourselves, The Beenies.

Q. What bands or groups are you in at the moment?

A. Well I'm in The Beenies, Conundrum, The Gleaners and Devlish Mary which is another new band.

Q. What styles of fiddle do you play in those bands?

A. Well. Mainly Irish fiddle style. In Devlish Mary its sort of Old Timey country vibe. We are off to Maldon and Dorrigo festivals. Dorrigo is a festival I haven't been to so it should be good. Nice part of the world.

Q. Have you done any busking?

A. Yes. Heaps. All around the place. I used to busk at the Sunday market in Mildura when I was little. I used to busk alone but I would get my dad to start me off. I was very shy but then after a while I just did it on my own. I used to rake it in when I was little, it was great. My auntie had a stall at the market, selling antiquey sort of stuff. I used to busk in front of that.

Q. Did you get any fiddle lessons?

A. I got a couple of lessons off James Rigby. Mum and dad knew James' brother Andy for years. He recommended what books I should buy to learn tunes out of and what CDs to listen to and all that and it was really good. I remember going to heaps of workshops at festivals.

Q. Did any workshops stand out?

A. I remember a recent one that was really, really good was Bruce Molsky's workshop at the National Folk Festival. That was when I was starting to play Old Timey music on fiddle. It was really good.

Q. Do you come from a musical family?

A. Yes. Mum and dad are really good singers and dad plays whistle and fiddle. They are also really involved in the folk scene in Mildura. There was a folk festival going on there for years and they were on the committee. It was the Red Cliffs Folk Festival but it doesn't go on any more.

Q. What is your favourite instrument?

A. That's a hard one. I was thinking about that. I would say the fiddle but I really love singing though. I would probably say voice is my favourite.

Q. What advice would you give to someone taking up the fiddle for the first time?

A. Listen to heaps of music as you are learning, whether you are getting lessons or teaching yourself. Have a set plan and practice every day. Stick with it. Most people find it really hard to learn.

Q. Did you find it hard in the early stages?

A. I can't really remember that far. I remember hating practicing and thinking 'Oh I just don't want to play the stupid violin any more'. I did love it at the same time.

Q. Do you love your violin?

A. Yes. I guess so. Its not mine though. This is my dad's fiddle which I am borrowing because I liked the sound of it a bit better than mine. I have been wanting to buy a new fiddle for a few years. It would be great to be able to afford to get an Australian made fiddle, something really nice. I tried a couple of fiddles made by Rainer Beilharz, he is a maker up in Guildford VIC. His fiddles are beautiful.