I have spent the past week getting reacquainted with my heart. I’ve cried. I’ve played a few of my favorite songs over and over again. I’ve taken my fiddle out of its case and played the modal, soulful tunes that I love best.
All of this tending to my heart came about after I learned of a friend’s death last Wednesday. Trevor Stuart was a fiddle teacher of mine, and his passing was unexpected and sudden.
I wasn’t especially close to Trevor. Aside from his twin brother Travis, I’d never met his family. I hadn’t seen him for several years. I only knew a little of what was going on in his life by his occasional Facebook posts. And so this sorrow I feel over his death is something of a nostalgic sorrow. It’s not the true, deep sorrow that his family must be feeling. But it is sorrow nonetheless. He died too soon.
I met Trevor and Travis at Alaska Fiddle Camp almost a decade ago. They came from North Carolina to teach old time fiddle and banjo. I felt at home with them right away. They were funny, sincere, open and kind. Of all of those traits, it was their openness that stuck with me. They were open to friendship and they weren’t interested in proving that they were accomplished musicians or important in any way. They were just there to play music and have a good time. It was also apparent that they loved music, and not just the kind they were there to teach. When they had the time, they’d sit in on the Irish fiddle and bodhran classes. Late into the night they’d sing country songs, 80s pop songs, whatever. Music was more to them than a genre or a style. It was bigger than that.
One thing that always stood out about Trevor’s teaching style was that he taught tunes rather than technique. He seemed to know that the tunes would mean something different to every fiddle player, and so he didn’t try to get his students to play the tunes exactly as he played them. He didn’t insist on teaching them precisely the way he’d learned them from some old recording. He trusted that the tunes were living things and that variation, interpretation and evolution were part of the nature of old time music. He loved the music and what it could do. He trusted that the tunes would be just fine once he passed them along.
His own old time fiddle playing was as soulful as any that I’ve heard. He must have worked hard to master the technicalities of playing, and thank goodness he did, because his mastery allowed the heart of his playing to shine through.
And I suppose that is why I’ve been so deeply saddened by his passing. Trevor had heart. It came through in how he treated people and in how he played music. My own life was enhanced by the music he taught and played and by the kindness he and Travis brought with them from North Carolina to Alaska. I know I’m only one of hundreds who feel that way. And I, like so many others, assumed that we’d see him again someday.
As humans, our capacity to love is so great, but often we forget this. We squander our energy for love on things that matter so little. We get caught up in sounding smart, in trying to be important, in trying to acquire status or material possessions. We forget that we are meant for so much more in this life.
Trevor’s unexpected passing won’t change the course of my life the way that it will his family’s. But it has done something. Over the past week I’ve felt my heart wedging open. It feels like it’s coming out of a deep, long sleep. It feels vulnerable and awake. It feels like it’s beating along to some tune that I haven’t yet learned how to play.
*Thank you to David Bragger for the wonderful recording of Trevor and Travis. David’s work is exceptional. To learn more about it go to The Old-Time Tiki Parlour.