Justine Sawka, Fiddler & Banjo Player - Just Have Fun
By Jasmine Reese - For many, at some point in their musical education, practice, the pursuit of excellence, recitals, gigs -- it can all feel like one big chore. Justine Sawka reminds us why we play. We play because it's fun.
Justine is an adult violin and banjo student.After several years of studying classical music, she switched over to her true love - fiddle. She takes lessons with famous Canadian fiddler, Patti Kusturok.
Since beginning, she's composed several tunes, played in fiddle competitions, and started a band.
Justine says the secret to keeping motivated is staying true to yourself, playing what you like, and sharing music with others.
When did you begin playing violin?
When I was a child of about 10 years old, I had the opportunity to participate in a music program at our local elementary school. The program focused on providing children of low income families the opportunity to play an instrument. This provided children of these families the opportunity to play a violin weekly for an hour after school. I loved it! I attended for about 6 months or so, but unfortunately, it was at this time that our family moved out of the city to a town where this type of program was not provided. Sadly, that was the end of my violin playing until much later in life.
I didn't pick up a violin again until I was 45 years old. My father had passed away when I was 32, but before he did, he passed me his old fiddle. I'd had this fiddle tucked away as I continued my university studies. Then spent quite a few years in equestrian pursuits. I'd had a couple of bad riding accidents, and associated with these accidents came physical limitations necessitating the need to give up equestrian activities. It was at this time that I became reacquainted with my dad's old fiddle. I have now been playing violin for six years and have not looked back!
Did you start with fiddle? Or with a classical foundation?
My foundation was classically based for the first five years. All through my classical studies, however, I took an online fiddle course and dabbled with playing fiddle tunes for fun along side of my classical studies. Five years into my studies, my instructor moved away, and it was at this time that I decided to change gears and make fiddle music my main focus.
Why did you want to learn?
Music has always been such a big part of my life mostly through radio and singing in the school choir. I derive such pleasure from music, and I see how it affects others. The memories as a child playing that little fiddle was always at the back of my mind. I had dreams of playing again, but like many adults who are very self critical, I always felt that as an adult I could never be good enough to play. I've gotten past that feeling. I play for myself, for the pleasure I derive from drawing the bow across those strings, for the memories that the music brings back to me, and for the smiles that music brings to the faces of others.
What are your musical goals?
My main goal is to have fun! I accomplish this by not only playing my instrument, but also by playing and sharing music with others. I am fortunate to have found a great group of people to play with and to say that we have fun may be a bit of an understatement! I have written a few fiddle tunes over the last couple of years and hope to write a few more. In addition, I have played for the residents at our local personal care home for which I also work. Being able to play my fiddle and put a smile on anyone's face is priceless and is the ultimate goal.
What are you most proud of? What have you accomplished that makes you proud of yourself?
Three years ago, my first grandchild was born. My granddaughter Ayla has such a special place in my heart. Her sweet smile inspired me to write my first fiddle tune titled Ayla's Smile. I guess, in a way, Ayla's smile gave me the confidence to write that first tune. The next tune I wrote is called Memory's Lane in honor of my father who gave me my first fiddle. I think of him and all the happy memories I have of him every time I play that tune. I have played both of these tunes at fiddle contests and they were very well received by the audience.
Most recently, Memory's Lane was played at the Mass Appeal Fiddle in Winnipeg, MB. I was honored that this was one of the tunes chosen to be played at this annual event. In the past six months or so, I've competed and placed in a couple of fiddle contests. For me, the proudest moments was to be able to play the tunes I'd written and not pass out from stage fright!
What have you overcome musically to get to the point you are today?
One of my biggest challenges was and still is my own self criticism. As an adult, we have perceptions about how we think we should be able to play and how we would like to sound. For whatever reason, as a child I did not have these feelings. I played because I enjoyed it, and I would play for anyone who would listen. As an adult, I'm much more self conscious of my skills, and I think that part of the reason is adults view adults that are starting to play an instrument differently than they do a child beginner. A child beginner may be seen as "cute" whereas an adult beginner may be seen with much more derision. I've learned to just be confident where I currently am in my musical journey and remember why I am doing this -- to have fun!