The future is waiting for 9-year-old fiddler Ridge Roberts – and he seems eager to meet it.
His mother, Cindy Roberts, said that although she and husband John aren’t pushing Ridge into music, he seems self-motivated.
Ridge learned to play the fiddle from his dad about two years ago. John, who plays by ear as his son does, learned years ago from a friend.
Ridge already has a level of proficiency and command that is nothing short of amazing for someone his age.
He wasn’t always 100 percent sure about what to say while giving his first interview recently, but soon he picked up his Maestro fiddle and let it do the talking. It was obvious that this boy was going to burst at the seams if he couldn’t show his stuff.
Ridge showed an impressive level of concentration as he breezed through songs titled “Sally Growler,” “Twinkle Little Star,” and “Amazing Grace,” among others. He said he can play a number of others, including “Cripple Creek,” “Liberty” and “Fifty Year Ago Waltz.”
JUST LIKE DAD
Once Ridge warmed up, he became more talkative – and projected confidence far beyond his years.
“It’s actually probably one of the hardest instruments,” Ridge said, demonstrating the just-so elbow placement his dad taught him. “When you’re a fiddler teacher, you have to be very strict with all the notes and the bowing.”
He explained his early success by saying it was his passion, then added, “and if you know you can do it, it’ll be easy for you.”
His father has bragged on Ridge by saying he’s the better fiddler among the two, “by a long shot.”
“He’s very happy and proud,” Cindy said of John, who is a bilingual patient advocate in the emergency room at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth. “We’re really excited about it since (Ridge) loves it so much and he’s so passionate about playing the fiddle. If that’s what he wants to do – perform – then we’re thrilled for him.”
Ridge said he usually practices between 45 minutes to an hour and a half each day.
He and older brother Aedan have been home-schooled at their residence in eastern Hood County since moving here from Fort Worth almost five years ago. Younger brother Rio attends public school. Aeden also plays fiddle, as well as piano.
Ridge said that he enjoys the music of Mark O’Connor – another seemingly natural fiddler who gained notoriety on television at age 13 on “The Porter Waggoner Show” in 1975 after winning the Grand Masters Fiddling Championship in Nashville.
“I think he’s a really good fiddler,” said Ridge, who won’t turn 10 until April 17. “They call him the master of the fiddle. His style isn’t exactly my style, but I still like it.”
While he enjoys playing country and western as well as Irish music, his favorite tunes are what he called “old style” from the 1800s. Cindy said her husband’s love of older music influenced him.
He has created a few original tunes, including the aptly titled, “Roberts Breakdown.” His other compositions are also quite good but yet to be named, his mother said.
People are starting to notice this talented young fiddler who appears to have the serious, intense focus of a much older musician. His drive seems to come from within.
“I never have to tell him to practice,” Cindy said. “He just picks it up. We don’t have to push him. If we had to push him, it wouldn’t be worth it. We just want to encourage him to have as much freedom as he needs, to grow in it.”
When asked about how much he enjoys performing, Ridge would only say, “A lot. It makes me feel really good.”
Then there’s the raw talent.
“So many people have told us he should open for somebody (in concert),” Cindy said. “I think people are taken by him, and his age.”
Ridge’s first performance for an audience was in 2011 when he played at a local private school, according to his mother.
He has played about three times at People Helping People, where Cindy is a volunteer.
He had a more public performance at The Church at Granbury, after minister C.C. Risenhoover invited him to perform during last Easter’s sunrise service.
Ridge played recently at the Hood County Senior Center, and is scheduled to make a second appearance tomorrow (Thursday, July 19).
“Ridge is an incredibly gifted musician with a charming personality,” said Mindy Hodges, executive director of the senior center. “His stage presence kept his audience engaged the entire time he was here and earned him quite a few tips, as well. We look forward to having Ridge back in the near future. He is a true delight!”
Tom Green, curator of the Veterans Museum in Granbury, arranged to have Ridge play there on Veterans Day (Nov. 11). Ridge is learning patriotic songs for the occasion, including “This Land is Your Land.”
“When he plays ‘Amazing Grace,’ it’s very touching,” Green said. “He’s just a wonderful young kid.”
Ridge was awarded a scholarship to the O’Flaherty Irish Music Youth Camp in Plano, which was held Monday and Tuesday.
Ridge even has a trademark – a black cowboy hat. He acquired it about a year ago after literally outgrowing his previous favorite topper – a fedora.
All of the attention apparently hasn’t fazed Ridge.
“He doesn’t get nervous,” Cindy said. “He tells me he does better when he plays in front of people.”
Ridge has other interests, including reading – “Hank, the Cowdog” is a personal favorite – along with playing soccer, baseball and flag football.
“I read a whole lot,” Ridge said.
If Ridge’s talent leads him to a special musical pathway, that’s fine with his family. Cindy said they’ll back him all the way, as they will for Aedan, 12, and Rio, 7.
“I think that would be great,” she said when asked about potential breakthroughs that may come. “We encourage them to just follow their dreams, whatever their passion is.”
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