Fiddling Liesl

Wednesday, January 3, 2007
Liesl Schoenberger -- violinist, fiddler, great musician. (Fred Lynch photo)

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Meet Liesl Schoenberger, violinist, fiddler and on-and-off member of the famous Mike Renick Band.

If you've seen Liesl jamming with Mike and crew, then you know just how good she is.

Liesl is far from your typical musician. Some have said she's a prodigy on the violin, others have called her a "wunderkind." Since she was a child Liesl has spent a large chunk of her life studying and playing the violin, a path that has led her to learn with the likes of Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas and Edgar Meyer at Carnegie Hall.

Now she's a 22-year-old grad student at the prestigious music school at Indiana University.

Her accomplishments in classical music have made many in Cape proud to say she's a local native. But Liesl also has a mean bluegrass streak in her -- she's recorded three of her own CDs in Nashville. OFF visited Liesl in her parents' Cape Girardeau home to talk about music, the Renick band and the origin of her name.

OFF: You have a somewhat unusual name. Where did it come from?

Liesl Schoenberger: It's an old family name, but also, are you familiar with the name at all?

OFF: No.

Liesl: You've never seen "The Sound of Music"? I mean, even little boys, when they're little watch "The Sound of Music." Well there's a girl on "The Sound of Music" named Liesl. So usually that's what people first think.

OFF: I guess it's a German name?

Liesl: Yeah.

OFF: How old were you when you started playing violin?

Liesl: I was two-and-a-half. I actually started at SEMO, with the Suzuki method. I went through all of that by the time I was about 9 and just continued from there.

OFF: When did your love of bluegrass come about?

Liesl: That started when I was 9. People, when I was young, encouraged me to do the SEMO District Fair, and that's just kind of how I started. I think they didn't really realize that's not the kind of music that I played. It's kind of, "Fiddle contest, she plays violin, that's the same thing." But it's not.

So I learned a few fiddle tunes and I played in the fair and did really well and that's where it took off.

OFF: Did you fall in love with bluegrass right away?

Liesl: I think I always really liked it. It was something that was really different, it was very spontaneous. I love the classical stage, that's much more challenging, it's definitely the thing that gave me the technique and foundation to do all these other styles, so classical is more fun in that sense, but bluegrass is also an atmosphere that's really laid back and has an interesting crowd and I did it on the side really. I always did classical first and foremost, and the bluegrass thing was on the side, really.

OFF: What was it like to work with people like Jerry Douglas and Bela Fleck at a workshop called Edgar Meyer's "Porous Borders of Music"?

Liesl: It was amazing.

It was very eye-opening. Porous borders of music was the perfect name for this workshop because they really just threw down the barriers between all the genres of music: classical, Irish, jazz, bluegrass, Texas fiddling, Indian. Anything that could be there, it was there. And they kind of merged it into this melting pot of all these incredible artists who were the participants and instructors. The result was really phenomenal, I've never experienced anything like that.

I've kind of tried to do that a little bit myself, with that kind of merging of the genres, and it's always been something I felt really strongly about, that classical and bluegrass really couldn't survive without each other, really. Even though people can be extremists and purists in their own regard, I think that all styles of music complement each other in some way and only help to make a more well-rounded musician and listener. It was really, really life changing in that sense, to be around people who were really pushing the boundaries.

OFF: Do you go to concerts much in your free time, like rock concerts?

Liesl: Sure. When I say I like anything I mean I like anything. It just depends on what mood you're in. I think it's important to have an appreciation for whatever you're listening to.

For example, I have a friend in, what does she call the genre ... grindcore. It was crazy. I went to it twice actually, because the second time I thought it would be different. And it's really not something I'd ever go to again, but I have a huge appreciation for the effort that she puts into it, because it was incredible what she was doing.

All the people I go to school with are classical musicians, and they spend their days, 10 hours a day, practicing and teaching and rehearsing. And if you can't appreciate that, about any genre, then, I don't know, it's important.

But going to a rock concert, seeing Mike Renick play, seeing these guys downtown, it's a totally thrilling experience in a totally different way.

OFF: How did you get involved with the Mike Renick Band?

Liesl: The first time it happened we were all sitting around, with a couple of mutual friends, and he showed up with his guitar, and I had heard he had wanted to kind of jam and hang out. So he came over, and I went home and got my violin and we went back there and we played all night until like four in the morning. That was the first time I'd ever really done that kind of thing, in that style, for sure. And he just asked me a few times to come down and play, so when I'm in town, that's what I like to do.

It's a totally different experience. When I'm at school I kind of crave it. I just don't have time, I wish I had time, to get with a band at school, because ... the music scene is incredibly eclectic. But they're awesome to let me do that.

For more information on Liesl visit www.fiddlingliesl.com. Liesl was interviewed by Matt Sanders.

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