Artist Blog: Laura Cortese on Finding Your Voice with a Fiddle

By Laura Cortese

Are there some other genres or styles of music that you would like to try that you haven’t explored thus far?

In short: No. And yet, answering with only that ensures misunderstanding. At the present moment I don’t have a specific style I’m yearning to try. I am hooked on exploration and curiosity more than any specific genre. I collide with unique challenges as I push past the previous self-imposed boundary of where I thought the fiddle belonged or what my listeners expect of my instrument and me.

Growing up in the US at a fertile time for fiddle music, my teens were a stream of annual fascinations at fiddle camp, where I was introduced to new musicians: Alasdair Fraser, Buddy MacMaster, Catriona MacDonald (the first female fiddler I met, but that is a different story), Jerry Holland, Martin Hayes, Bruce Molsky, Annbjorg Lien, Ellika Frisell, and so on. I had never heard of any of these players before sitting in their classes, their notes wafting through dappled light under redwood trees. After one week studying with each of them at fiddle camp I would buy several of their albums and spend the next year listening daily, obsessively learning the intricacies of their bowing, grooves and subtle melodic variations in my attic room on a Walkman, then Discman.


It never occurred to me to really sing until I heard Christa Burch and Kim Hughes singing together, arranging traditional songs for two voices. And when I first heard Bruce Molsky’s voice it somehow felt even more like a place to start with my deep alto. It wasn’t until I lived in Boston and began to meet the songwriters who pooled around Club Passim that I first thought to present my own words and stories.

Each time the motivation is fascination, paired with accessibility and a desire to connect with the community that surrounds the genre. The main exception to this rule is the first time I heard Feist on the radio. I was in my inherited white Subaru Legacy turning the corner onto Memorial Drive in Cambridge when the first notes of “Mushaboom” came on Boston’s River Radio. My first thought was, “Oh, thank goodness. The days of Britney Spears have passed.” It felt like a new wave of creativity was about to descend on the world of pop music. Listening to Feist I heard possibility wrapped up in a tidy pop-song package: Freedom to no longer think about songs in the context of a specific traditional style, but in the context of soundscape. To serve the song in recorded form. To captivate the listener without looking into their eyes.

It took me five years to allow myself to explore these ideas more fully. And rather than emulate the sounds and techniques as I did with my fiddle as a youngster, I attempted to embody the ethos by which the music was made. Or where I perceived the work ethic and motivation to come from. To put the song before the genre. To put creativity before tradition. To put collaboration before ego. I sent every song I had to seven respected musicians and collaborators. The rules were to pick two songs and meet up for two days of experimentation where they would guide the artistic decisions of each track. Each session was isolated and there was no plan to make an album. Only to see what we could create if we gave ourselves permission to break the rules.


The album that came out of it was The Poison OaksPine. Check out SoundCloud below, plus an extra track from the original demo sessions that wasn’t used on the final album to see what came of those sessions.

Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards are currently on tour in support of their Compass Records release California Calling. For more info, visit