WINTHROP — Owen Kennedy played his first fiddle before he could learn to speak.

The fiddle was made with cardboard box with a ruler in it and he played it with a wooden dowel, recalled his mother, Christina Kennedy. 

Now 14 years old, the Winthrop fiddler has performed internationally and is starting to make a name for himself locally as a solo performer. 

“I like performing because I get to see people with smiling faces,” Owen said. “It just makes me happy.”

Winthrop’s St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church will feature Owen in a free concert to celebrate St. Andrew’s Day at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30, the Friends Meeting House at 219 Winthrop Center Road (Route 135).

Owen will also perform at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Oasis of Music in Lewiston. 

His favorite audiences have been the young and old. Young children participate and dance without inhibition, while seniors in nursing homes show true appreciation for the music he creates — music that has brought some listeners to tears. 

Owen Kennedy plays the fiddle tune “Hangman’s” in family’s home Thursday in Winthrop. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

One of Owen’s early solo performances was for a woman’s 90th birthday party. The woman was a pianist, and she played as a child with her father who was a fiddler. 

With ages flip flopped, the woman played the piano while Owen fiddled, a thrilling experience for the woman, Christina Kennedy said, recalling her son’s performance. 

“His music comes from a place of joy,” she said. “That is why he is so engaging. It is about sharing his love for this thing that is special to him with everybody else.”

Like his older sister and his mother, Owen started playing the fiddle when he was 4. He learned the Shinichi Suzuki method through the Pineland Suzuki School in Manchester. Suzuki, a Japanese teacher and musician, believed children could learn music the same way they learn to speak — by ear. 

Learning the method at the school, Owen studied classical violin, but it was traditional fiddling he longed for. 

“I fell in love with fiddle music,” he said, “and started to play that when I was 7.”

Owen Kennedy plays the fiddle tune “Hangman’s” in family’s home on Wednesday in Winthrop. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Ph Buy this Photo

Classical, Owen explained, is composed and written down on paper. Fiddle-playing is traditional and learned by ear — and changes are welcome. 

“It is fun to change the tunes to how I want them to be,” he said. “Classical is stripped; you cannot really change anything.”

It’s been with school and other musical groups that Owen started performing nationally and internationally — and he loved it.

Playing with groups like the Pineland Fiddlers, the Maine Folque Co-op or the Young Tradition Vermont Touring Group, Owen has performed in Quebec, Canada; Cape Breton, Nova Scotia; San Diego, California; and Shetland, Scotland. 

These festivals and opportunities include workshops with experienced and even famous fiddlers. While in Shetland during the Shetland Folk Frenzy, Owen learned tricks to make his fiddle sound like bagpipes.

That’s relevant, he said, for an upcoming Celtic concert at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Winthrop. At this concert Owen will reveal the new skills he’s learned. 

Owen Kennedy plays the fiddle tune “Hangman’s” in family’s home Thursday in Winthrop. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Ph Buy this Photo

Owen’s parents have committed to paying for his classes, group dues and his instrument, but the travel and participation fees for festivals and music camps can be expensive.

“We told him, if you want to do this, you have to earn some of the money,” Christina said. 

Owen started earning money by busking at farmers markets and craft fairs when he was about 11 years old, she said. Over time, people have heard him and have hired him to play at weddings and similar engagements, and the interest has “rippled.”

“We are clear — this is not to go buy a new phone or Nintendo,” Christina said. “It is going right back into his music education.”

Owen’s long term goal, he said, is to be a traditional fiddler in a band. 

“That is my hope and dream,” he said. 

Owen Kennedy plays the fiddle tune “Hangman’s” in family’s home on Wednesday in Winthrop.  Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Ph Buy this Photo

His role models include Celtic folk musicians Natalie MacMaster, Donnell Leahy and family, and he had the experience of a lifetime to perform on stage with them when they did a concert in Rockland. 

Owen, wanting to get a front row seat, tugged his family to the ticket booth early. They ended up being third in line with a cold wait, but he came prepared. Playing his fiddle, Owen entertained the line, and MacMaster heard the 11-year-old. 

During the concert, she pointed to Owen sitting in the front row, and called him on stage. With a broken string, playing with her was an adrenaline rush, he said. 

The Winthrop freshman is home-schooled and also takes classes at Winthrop High School. He also enjoys biking, fishing, swimming, art, pottery and being outside. He hopes to learn to play the piano and speak French. 

He can be booked to perform by visiting fiddlerokennedy.com.


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