February 19, 2018

Old Bunch of Keys: A Documentary on Old-Time Fiddler Kelsey Wells

Proud mama alert: Kelsey Wells is the subject of a new short documentary from folklorist Caitlin Coad. Old Bunch of Keys, named for an old-time tune, as well as Kelsey’s latest CD and thesis project as a Buchanan Fellow at Middle Tennessee State University, is a fifteen minute film available here on Vimeo.

Yes, yes, I’m her mama, so of course I’ve watched it more than once. But even you might enjoy at least one viewing to:

  • Learn more about old-time music, particularly fiddling
  • Sample a contra dance
  • Or draw a bit of inspiration from an emerging artist who sees old-time music as a community music “of the people today.”

Old-time fiddler Kelsey Wells has come into her own sound after putting in many, many hours at it .

In the film, Kelsey talks about studying other fiddlers and shares a perspective that I think applies to any writer or musician as they absorb influences and develop their own unique style:

“I’ve taken the rhythm of James Leva’s bowing and kind of extrapolated it onto the style of James Bryan… as I’ve been listening to so many different fiddlers for so many years, I’ve come to realize that as much as you can try to sound like someone, you can try to emulate their sound….the more you try to sound like someone, the more you start to sound like yourself … And so I finally, in the past year or so, have been satisfied with playing the way Kelsey plays … I’ve been learning tunes lately and deciding that well, that’s not how he did it, but that’s how I’m going to do it.”

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggests that mastery requires an investment of 10,000 hours of practice. Although that theory has been disputed in articles such as this one, I’m here to witness – with awe and delight – that Ms. Kelsey has put in that time with single-minded passion and discipline.  I have never once told that kid to practice. Music simply called, and she listened.

“Music makes people really, really happy,” Kelsey says near the end of the film. “And so I’d like to do that [make music], too.”

And so she does, and always will. And I am grateful.

Watch Old Bunch of Keys on Vimeo

Are you studying and practicing the art that makes you happy – to the point of finding and claiming your own unique voice? If not, what’s it going to take for you to move forward?


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