It isn't right to say there are no strings attached when The Fretless comes to perform, but it is correct to say the strings won't be touching any metal.
The group is named for the construction of all their instruments. All have strings but none have the note divisions built onto the necks like guitars and banjos do. They play cello, viola and fiddle.
They also play them in unconventional ways. Their fingers still form the notes the way any expert quartet would, but the sounds that leap out are from folk traditions, not chamber ensemble classical traditions.
"One of the coolest things since the start of the project is people thinking of string quartets and having that concept of what that will sound like, but with every show and every album we've been making it something unique and our own," said band member Karrnnel Sawitsky. "In terms of the show itself, we try to get our own personalities and the band's personality to come across, but not make an effort at that, if that makes sense. It's about sharing our music and moods and personalities across with each audience every night. And every audience is so different, so it does go both ways."
This band has never performed in Prince George before, although some members have been here on solo or other musical projects. The Fretless is comprised of Sawitsky, Ivonne Hernandez, Trent Freeman (all fiddle players who share viola duties) and cello player Eric Wright. Hernandez, as local audiences know from past performances here, also includes step-dancing in the show.
"Her dancing brings more of that old-style traditional thing to what we're doing, and it makes for some visual interaction with the music," said Sawitsky. "And people love it. People can sometimes forget that music is made so you can dance to it, so to see it presented as dance lets you react in that way."
All the members of the band have experience playing classical or orchestral music on their instruments, although Sawitsky said he in particular has a career dominated by the folk stylings of the violin/fiddle. They have considered the possibilities of doing a project backed by a symphony orchestra but too many more immediate opportunities are still keeping them busy.
"You ride the wave whenever the waves hit, and we've been on a bit of a hot streak," he said. "It's tough to say, but last year I'd guess that 70 per cent of my musical time was focused on The Fretless. We do have solo things we do, but the band has really become the priority for all of us."
Sawitsky received a grant in his home province of Saskatchewan to research the history of that region's fiddle sounds. He said the instrument has an elemental place across Canada because if its size, portability, and foundational place in music groups large and small ever since European contact with North America. Prince George's Daniel Lapp is a nationally renowned musician and a friend of the band (both are based in Victoria these days), with a kindred spirit in the academic exploration of regional fiddle sounds. Lapp has made a life's project out of studying British Columbia's fiddle compositions.
Learning and appreciating the different ways fiddle and other fretless music is made is part of what drives the group. They perform across Canada and other parts of the world, but they also glean musical knowledge from the places they go.
"It's the icing on the cupcake," Sawitsky said. "Obviously we all love to play music and be in front of people every night. And you have to do it, to be honest, because that's what you've chosen to do for your career. But when we travel we get to see these gorgeous places, meet amazingly nice people, you get to see interesting sides of different communities. Especially when you go overseas, when you say you're going to do old-time traditional tunes, you have to call it 'Canadian old-time' because their definition of 'old' and 'traditional' are much different than ours. It's fun to educate people about those traditions no matter where you are."
The Fretless performs tonight at the Elder Citizens Recreation Association building, then Saturday they are in Williams Lake at the St. Andrew's United Church hall.
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