Walter Bitner

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Is It A Fiddle Or A Violin?

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(l to r) David Coe and Matt Combs perform for a group of students attending Is It A Fiddle Or A Violin? at Schermerhorn Symphony Center

Today our unique program Is It A Fiddle Or A Violin? – a collaboration with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum – begins its ninth season.

Targeted at students in Kindergarten through Fifth Grade, this free two-hour program provides children and their chaperones with tours of both Schermerhorn Symphony Center and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and features a musical presentation and dialogue by two local musicians about the employment of the violin (or fiddle!) in both classical and country music.  Thousands of children have attended this program over the years, in what are often their first experiences at two of Nashville’s most important cultural venues.

David Coe and Matt Combs – two local musicians who have been with the program since the beginning – largely co-wrote the featured presentation which gives the program its title.  I sat down with David and Matt earlier this year to talk about Is It A Fiddle Or A Violin?

WB: So you’ve both been doing this together all this time?

David Coe: Yes, since the very beginning.  We were just talking about it – its been eight years.

Matt Combs: Yes, it was 2006 when we started.

WB: So you’ve been doing this about eight years, and you do about a dozen shows a year.  Has the format changed over the years? Or has it been pretty much the same for eight years?

MC: I’d say it pretty much follows the same path.

DC: We changed it up at the beginning, when we were trying to find what form we wanted it to take… a lot of the work was editing it down, because with a short program it goes by fast, so we had to make sure we got our points across quickly and played the music we wanted to play. But now we’re pretty set.

WB: Did you two write this show together?

DC: Yes, we did.  We had some help from people here, from the (Country Music) Hall of Fame and from the Symphony.

MC: Mitchell Korn was here previously (at the Nashville Symphony), and he helped us tighten up the show a little bit.

DC: …but we definitely brought in the music, and some ideas.

WB: You’ve been doing this show about a dozen times a year for eight years – you’ve done this show close to a hundred times by now.  Has anything unusual ever happened during one of your shows?

DC: Well the explosions that we’ve had this year, with the construction across the street!  That was pretty good, the first time that happened we were all looking at each other going “what was that?”

A lot of what’s surprising are the responses that we get when we ask questions…one time a girl said to Matt about how he was bowing “What’s that thing you do that looks like an eggbeater?  You look like you’re whipping up eggs” and Matt said “well that’s me playing Bach.”

MC: My hope is that, of these thousands of kids that we’ve played for over the years, some of them have – because of this – said “hey, I want to do that”, and I don’t know, maybe they have?  There’s bound to be a few that have done it, that would be the hope.

DC: That’s kind of how it works.  You play, you put it out there, and it connects with somebody…a lot of times you can kind of see it, you’ll see some kid out there that you can tell, is into it, got it, that’s fantastic!


Nashville Symphony docent Andrew Giacobone leads a group of Is It A Fiddle Or Violin? students on a tour of Laura Turner Hall

WB: Since you’re sharing both traditional fiddling music and classical music in the same program, do you  feel like they respond more to one or the other, or do you think it’s a mix?

MC: It seems like they enjoy all of it.

DC: It does to me too.  My natural inclination is to think that they will like the fiddle better, just because it’s lively, but that hasn’t really been the case.  They respond to it all.  I think that for kids or adults, the power of live music, of sitting and having musicians right in front of you playing, in any form, is pretty powerful.  I think people respond to that.

MC: And the age group that we get, they are still really open…they haven’t decided what’s cool and what’s not cool yet.

DC: If they like it, it’s good!

MC: Yeah, that’s right!

MC:  I think the program is great, especially for this city, and the partnership between the (Country Music) Hall of Fame and the Symphony – it shows that the world of music is not separated: it’s together.

DC: Hopefully it will get some kids playing music!

MC: Yes, something the world needs badly.

DC: We hope that they’ll pick up a fiddle or a violin, but the truth is we don’t care what they play!

*       *       *

David and Matt will present the first Is It A Fiddle Or A Violin? of the season this morning for a group of homeschool students.  Find the scheduled dates this program will be presented on the Nashville Symphony website, and click here to download the complete and thorough Is It A Fiddle Or A Violin? Teacher’s Guide with pre-visit and post-visit classroom lessons aligned with state standards.

For reservations, please contact the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum at 615.416.2088.


  1. patbrans says:

    Nice article. My opinion on the eternal question? It’s a fiddle.

  2. walterbitner says:

    That settles it then.

  3. […] of both Schermerhorn Symphony Center and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum capped by the delightful title program presented by violinists/fiddlers David Coe and Matt Combs. Is It A Fiddle Or A Violin? is scheduled more than a dozen times each year -we have already hosted […]

  4. […] We’ve hosted 9 Is It A Fiddle Or A Violin? programs since January – this rich program serves hundreds of elementary school students every year and features tours of both Schermerhorn Symphony Center and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum capped by the delightful title program presented by violinists/fiddlers David Coe and Matt Combs. […]

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