When I began visiting Tierra Caliente in 1998 I saw fine violinists and guitarists playing beautiful music on instruments that were less than ideal. Violin bows were sometimes tied together with string, violins were sometimes strung with guitar strings and guitarists had to make do with old, dead strings.
Playing music is hard enough without having to fight poor quality gear, so I resolved to do what I could to help the folks who were playing this terrific music.
To that end, in partnership with the nonprofit Seattle Folklore Society, I started an organization which I called Fiddles for Tierra Caliente. This organization, which is still in operation, solicits instruments and monetary donations for musicians in Tierra Caliente. The Seattle Folklore Society’s non-profit status allows donors to receive tax-deductible receipts for the fair value of their donations.
People from many parts of the country have been very generous in support of Fiddles for Tierra Caliente. Ed and Laura Littlefield’s Sage Arts Foundation has provided substantial financial support to the project over the years. When bassist Mark Rubin was managing the violin store Violinsetc.com, the organization donated four good-quality violins, which I brought to Tierra Caliente and donated to folks who wanted to learn to play. Mike Schway from Bellingham, WA also donated an excellent fiddle, which I gave to a top violinist from the region.
Violinist and educator Julie Lyonn Lieberman and her students made a generous financial gift to the organization. The Deco Gals, decoration facilitators at Centrum’s Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, auctioned off paintings for two years in a row to support the project, with philanthropist Ed Littlefield matching the auction proceeds.
When instruments were donated, violin repair specialists including Barry Shultz gave freely of their time to get the fiddles in good playing condition. Several Seattle-area violin shops allowed me to turn monetary donations into far more strings, bows and pickups than the money would normally have bought.
More folks than I can remember donated fiddles and bows. I would often fly to Mexico with a giant duffle bag filled with four or five violins and a bunch of bows. Mexican customs officials kindly looked the other way when I mumbled something about them being “my violin.”
I’m certain that I have left some donors out and for this I apologize. I truly appreciate everyone who has helped with this project. Everyone’s donations have done a world of good in helping to preserve of the music of the Hot Lands.
In the earliest years of the project I gave the violins directly to individuals. Later, I saw that many of the students were losing interest and the instruments were relegated to living in closets or under beds. To get the most good from the donated instruments, I began giving them to violinist and teacher Ángel Tavira of Iguala, Guerrero. He in turn loaned them out to his students with the understanding that the instruments were theirs to keep as long as they continued to play. If they decided to discontinue studies, however, Ángel took the violins back and loaned them out to other students.
By 2006 when I reluctantly discontinued my Mexican visits, I probably gave away close to 30 violins in an assortment of sizes, about the same number of bows and innumerable violin and guitar strings.
As guitars are bulky and difficult to transport, I opted instead to purchase one for Hugo Reynoso, one of Juan Reynoso’s sons, in Paracho, Michoacán.
One of my proudest memories was when I gave a fine violinist named Plutarco Ignacio a violin, and he used it the following day to win a contest of regional music.
While I’m not currently traveling to Mexico I continue to seek out both instruments and monetary donations.
A few years ago, I gave quite a few instruments to a couple who travel to an orphanage in a small town just over the Mexican border. As I had no immediate plans to return to Mexico, I felt that giving the instruments to these Mexican orphans would be a good way to make use of the donated instruments. I look forward future trips to Mexico and hope to again carry instruments and strings to the people who play — and are learning to play — the remarkable music of Tierra Caliente.
Anyone wishing to donate to Fiddles for Tierra Caliente can contact me, Paul Anastasio, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks in advance!