Oh, Olivia!

By Nancy Ewachow

At 16, local fiddler Olivia Korkola is gaining international attention: Ashley McIsaac offered to play on her debut CD, world class fiddler Pierre Schryer took her under his wing and Russian classical teacher Olga Medvedeva helped honed her sense of musical responsibility.

Olivia Korkola is a very inspired and sure-footed youth. When I asked her what had brought her to the idea of making a CD at the seemingly young age of sixteen, she replied that in fact, the album-making process started at fifteen, when she was looking for the next step in her journey as a musician. She had been trained by the best she had access to, had competed, workshopped, studied, performed, and was ready for what waslogically next. She looked forward to the new experience, and with Pierre Schryer as producer at Rob Nickerson's studio, she learned aboutthe work of arranging studio times, acquiring rights to play other musicians' work, and especially, picking the best 'sets' of traditional Cape Breton music (it comes in sets of usually three tunes that meld one to the next). This last was time consuming: she needed to properly honour the music of the east coast community she had befriended, "else I'd hear about it."

Something along the way has always told this young woman to say yes to her inner gift. When I inquired how she came to have a violin in her hand at age four, she said she asked for it. Three years of classical training, then the Kam Valley fiddlers, and she was up and running. Good fortune brought world class fiddler Pierre Shryer to Thunder Bay, and he took her on as a pupil; Thunder Bay Symphony's youth orchestra provided a professional atmosphere and the city's music festivals gave her plenty of showcases and opportunities to hone her craft. Olga Medvedeva, her classical teacher, gave her the sense of responsibility to take seriously any skill, in a typically Russian-schooled fashion. Trips to Cape Breton began in 2006, where music and dancing is a way of life.

Her talents have met a lot of inspiration along the way, including meeting groundbreaking Canadian Ashley McIsaac, whose 1995 hit album "Hi How are You Today?" blended and broke genres with songs like Sleepy Maggie. He heard her in Cape Breton, and later in Vermont, and picked her out as a particularly deft player. Words like "awesome" and "really nice" four or five years ago led to an unsolicited offer to play on her album when he heard about it. For celtic music lovers, Olivia's CD is joyful, ('tho I'm a sucker for the sweet, almost mournful waltzes and aires, and the old-time Texas swing), and a perfectly stellar start to what promises to be a long career.

Ashley McIsaac might have seen something in Olivia that he recognized in himself. She relishes many experiences, like going to high school with her uncle Bob's 1980's Vitals band t-shirt on, knowing that her peers just didn't get it, and making it all the more fun. What she'll bring to the world with her music is sure to follow in the same tradition.

Olivia recently released her first CD, Playing in Traffic.