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Fiddling Gets Respect in Hands of Somerville Resident

Matt Glaser joins the ranks of string musicians such as Isaac Stern and Pablo Casals, with a key difference.

Somerville resident Matt Glaser, a violinist who's taught at Berklee College of Music for 32 years, has been at the forefront of an emerging interest in fiddling—using the violin to play folk, blues, Celtic, swing and other non-classical styles of music.

Recently, Glaser received the Artist Teacher Award from the American String Teachers Association. String musicians like Isaac Stern and Pablo Casals have previously won the award, but Glaser is the first non-classical teacher to receive it.

The Spring Hill resident said he was honored to receive the prestigious award, and he said there's been an "explosion" of interest in "fiddling and jazz and vernacular music."

It's an explosion of interest we see right here in Somerville at events like PorchFest, he said, referring to the citywide music festival in which hundreds of musicians take to their porches to play.

"It's not really a renaissance, it's a naissance," Glaser said, pointing to an increase in young musicians playing Celtic, bluegrass, swing, blues and other American roots music.

"Technologies and easy access to music" might have something to do with it, he suggested. When he was a kid he had to walk to a record store or library to find music; now young musicians can find all kinds of music on their computers.

Also, it's something deeper than a trendy nostalgia bandied about by young people in plaid shirts and unruly beards, he suggested, when asked. He said roots music is an important part of American culture.

Glaser has been at it for years. He's founder and artistic director of Berklee's American Roots Music Program, and he previously served as chair of Berklee's string department. He's performed at the White House and Carnegie Hall, and he also worked on and appeared on Ken Burns' documentary, Jazz, according to an email from Berklee.

As for Somerville, "I'm a proud Somerville resident," he said.

"It's not prissy like Cambridge," he said, adding it has a "great gritty vibe" and "great music."

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