Chelle (pronounced Shell) Fulk, owns and operates her own talent agency called Music by Anthem. She is also the talent. She plays Celtic fiddle, classical violin, viola, and she also sings. She performs at countless weddings, and other special events, with her Anthem String Quartet. The group uses electric instruments as well as traditional wooden instruments. She also performs with a folk group, Keltish, which performs Celtic dance music. She has a studio in Reston, VA where she teaches. I recently had the honor, and pleasure, of doing a phone interview with this lovely, and talented, lady. Here is what we talked about….
Fiddle Examiner: I want to start by going back to your childhood. What made you want to be a fiddler?
Chelle: I wanted to play because my family all played instruments. Usually, after dinner, we would all sit around and play and sing. I played a lot of different things, but I finally settled on viola and fiddle. My whole family played instruments, but not professionally. Just for fun.
Fiddle Examiner: So you are the first one to make the leap into the professional world?
Fiddle Examiner: How did you learn?
Chelle: I had private lessons, and then I took it in school, eventually, when it was available.
Fiddle Examiner: Where did you grow up?
Chelle: In Fauquier County Virginia.
Fiddle Examiner: Do you teach?
Chelle: I have a handful of adult students. I used to teach a lot but, you burn out on it after a while. So now I just have a few adult, beginner to moderate level, students studying different kinds of styles. They study all the styles I can teach, classical, jazz, Celtic.
Fiddle Examiner: Do they really want to learn the instrument or do they just want you to teach them how to play their favorite songs?
Chelle: Oh no, they love the instrument. Their are certainly pieces of music that they specifically fell in love with but, for the most part, they just want to be able to play. A couple of them do the Scottish fiddle competitions. It’s more rewarding for me to teach adults. You certainly do get some rock star kids that are just amazing to work with. I’ve had a handful of them. In fact, I have one now that’s wonderful. But, usually, if you are teaching a lot of kids most of them are there because their parents made them.
Fiddle Examiner: So you have a couple of bands. One of them is the Anthem String Quartet?
Chelle: Yes, that’s a standard string quartet, but all electric instruments. Mostly rock music.
Fiddle Examiner: So you just had a gig this past weekend in Baltimore?
Chelle: Yes! That was wonderful! It was actually just a wedding, cocktail hour. The couple just wanted something unusual
Fiddle Examiner: How did they find you? Do you have profiles on talent sites?
Chelle: We are hard to find, unfortunately. We are sort of a boutique group that, you have to know we exist, to find us. They knew of us from another event we had played at that particular country club.
Fiddle Examiner: Do you pass out your business cards when you play out?
Chelle: I try to, but it seems like the days that people ask for my business cards…I’ve forgotten them. Then the days when I have a big stack of them…nobody asks.
Fiddle Examiner: Never fails!
Chelle: Yep. Plus, we work for a lot of different agencies so I have to remember whose business card I’m supposed to be handing out and make sure I have enough. Music by Anthem (Chelle runs that company) is a sort of agency. Then are are a few agencies that love us and call us often.
Fiddle Examiner: Then you have the group, Keltish.
Chelle: Keltish is an Irish rock band that has been through a number of different iterations over the years. It started in 1999 as just a fiddle and guitar duo. At one point we were an all instrumental rock band. Then we added vocals, Then we narrowed down to being just a trio with guitar, fiddle, and vocals. Then we ramped back up to being a full five-piece rock band. Right now we are regrouping because we have an idea for an amazing project.
Fiddle Examiner: Oh yeah?
Chelle: It’s kind of a secret, but it’s more theatrical than anything else we’ve done before.
Fiddle Examiner: You have a gig coming up at the Kimball Theater in Colonial Williamsburg.
Chelle: Yes! That’s Irish Mystique! Keltish is the house band for that show. It’s a huge Irish dance show with like, a zillion Irish dancers on stage.
Fiddle Examiner: Like Riverdance?
Chelle: Sort of, but it’s more story-oriented. We tell the mythology of the Celts. There’s pirates, and fairies. The legend of the Selkie is kind of a fascinating one. A Selkie is a cross between a seal and a human. When they are in the water they are seals, but when they come on land they can become a person.
Fiddle Examiner: Like a mermaid?
Chelle: Kind of, but without the fish tail. The next show we do will be October 3, 2015. We just did one this past March.
Fiddle Examiner: And you have quite a few weddings coming up this summer.
Chelle: Yes, we do a lot of weddings as string trios, string quartets, the electric quartet, violin and guitar duets, and we even have flute in the mix. We just did an interesting wedding a couple of weeks ago. It was me on fiddle, a flute player, a bass player, and a keyboard player. The three acoustic instruments played the ceremony. Then the three of us moved over to where the keyboard player was and we basically turned into the dance band. We did a lot of swing and ballroom dance stuff. Then we had a dance caller come in for an hour during the reception for the Ceili dance, mostly Irish. We did the Virginia Reel and that kind of stuff. Lots of fun. We were doing all these different styles of music over the course of the evening. Then we went back to doing ballroom dance music to finish it out. We definitely pride ourselves on versatility. That’s got to be one of most unusual weddings I’ve ever done because the groom didn’t get his Visa in time, and was not actually at the wedding. He was in Paris at the time so they Skyped him in and put him on a big screen, and we did the ceremony with him via Skype.
Fiddle Examiner: That’s modern!
Chelle: It was brilliant…yes! After the ceremony, she had him on Skype with her tablet and carried him around all night. He got to talk to all of the guests, and almost be there.
Fiddle Examiner: So it was a virtual wedding. I hope they didn’t have the honeymoon over Skype too.
Chelle: I think she was leaving the next day to join him in Paris.
Fiddle Examiner: So did you play Glenn Miller?
Chelle: We did. We played “In the mood” and some Latin dance. We did some Grappelli, and all sorts of fun tunes.
Fiddle Examiner: You have recordings?
Chelle: The most recent recording I did was a children’s CD. It was with the children’s entertainer Mr. Gabe (http://mrgabemusic.com/). He’s based in Takoma Park, MD so the original plan was to do something in Montgomery County, but we ended up using Cue Studio in Falls Church, VA. It was wonderful. They took good care of us. They did a super nice job, and the CD came out beautifully. The violin is so difficult to record. It’s difficult to mic. It’s difficult to get the right tone. If you get too close, you get the bow scratch. If you get too far then you can hear room noise. Then if they put compression on it, you lose some of the tonality, but if you don’t use compression you have something with all of these edges. Everyone’s got their own ideas on how to do it right.
Fiddle Examiner: In your recordings you do some popular tunes (by various artists) such as Ashokan Farewell and Moon River. Do you pay licensing fees?
Chelle: If we are recording…definitely! I have a whole album of Beatles covers called 2 Do Beatles (http://musicbyanthem.com/store.html). It’s instrumental arrangements, and that was a great big check to Michael Jackson’s estate. By the way, my rock quartet does a really nice arrangement of Human Nature (by Michael Jackson). I initially thought it was going to be weird for strings, but it actually works really well.
Fiddle Examiner: You have a lot of violins?
Chelle: I do. My Zeta electric is probably my standard workhorse, take anywhere fiddle. With the Zeta I can plug into anything, any system. I doesn’t matter if it’s my own gear or someone else’s gear and it’s always going to sound good.
Fiddle Examiner: Is it wireless?
Chelle: I do have a wireless rig for it.
Fiddle Examiner: Do you have to keep the little box in your pocket?
Chelle: No. I rigged up an old shoulder rest and attached the transmitter to that so I can actually set down the instrument without anything being attached to me. It’s self-contained which is nice. I’ve tried other ways to do that, but it was awkward. I’m still looking for the perfect solution. I love the Zeta. It’s totally versatile. I can use it for anything. The Keebler is really specialized. That’s a pretty weird instrument. The Barrett probably has the best tone of any of them. It’s a gorgeous sounding instrument but it’s really particular. If it doesn’t like the PA then it just sounds terrible but, with all the conditions being within my control, it’s a wonderful, wonderful instrument.
Fiddle Examiner: What kind of traditional/acoustic violin do you have?
Chelle: It’s one I bought from Ricky Simpkins a few years ago. He was sure I would love this instrument. He brought it to me. I liked it and went ahead and bought it because I didn’t really have a good acoustic instrument. I had a couple others that I was using intermittently and I didn’t really play it much. But this past year I picked it up again, and it really is MY instrument! It is an awesome little violin. Maybe I just had the wrong strings on it, but I am just now discovering how right he was.
Fiddle Examiner: Do you know who made it?
Chelle: No. I don’t think it even has a label anywhere inside.
Fiddle Examiner: What kind of strings do you use?
Chelle: I can’t remember what’s on it now.
Fiddle Examiner: Rosin?
Chelle: Mostly I use Jade. I’m an authorized dealer for Incredibow (see http://www.musicbyanthem.com/) so I usually use those. They are carbon fiber. They are bowed the wrong way, like a Baroque style bow. They are ultra light and indestructible. You never need to rehair them. The hair is warranteed for three years and mine has lasted for ten now.
Fiddle Examiner: Do they fit well in your case?
Chelle: The only problem I’ve had is that the frog can be a little wide, but other than that, it’s fine. It’s great for playing outside. You can even use it in the rain.
Fiddle Examiner: With my wood bow, if I play near a river or late at night in damp, humid conditions, it doesn’t matter how much rosin I use…my bow will just slip around on the strings and I can’t play well.
Chelle: Exactly! This cures that!
Fiddle Examiner: Do you compose?
Chelle: Not really. I’ve written a few things. I’ve done arrangements for my electric string quartet. If I ever get to the point where I can’t physically play anymore, then composing is where I will aim my focus. I have a lot of ideas, but I just don’t have the time to compose.
Fiddle Examiner: Where does most of your income come from? Performing? CDs? Teaching?
Chelle: Definitely performing.
Fiddle Examiner: Cool. You are living the dream!
Chelle: (Laughing) Yeah, sometimes it feels that way. I do love it.
Fiddle Examiner: Do you travel?
Chelle: I worked on a cruise ship. I worked on the Celebrity Infinity with a string quartet. It was great! It was several months of pretty much performing every night. The group leader was Chad Schwartz who is a cellist in the DC area. He got us the spot. They chose his quartet because we played video game music such as Mario, Final Fantasy, and Halo.
Fiddle Examiner: Did you play the Titanic them while on the ship?
Chelle: You would not believe how many times people requested that! We played pop, rock, and classical. We got to spend a lot of time in Alaska. It’s a lot of work. It’s almost like being in the military, but it’s also fun.
Fiddle Examiner: Is that the only time you played on a cruise ship?
Chelle: No. I’ve done a couple others. My first one was Carnival. I’ve also played on Norwegian. All of those were through different agencies.
Fiddle Examiner: Do you have a favorite type of music that you play?
Chelle: I love the variety, and being versatile, and doing something different every day. This past weekend we went from rock string quartet, to children’s music, to classical string quartet. It’s just so much fun to do something different everyday.
Fiddle Examiner: Do you have a favorite musician that inspires you?
Chelle: Alasdair Fraser (http://www.alasdairfraser.com/) for sure! He’s a Scottish fiddler. And, locally, Ricky Simpkins (http://rickiesimpkins.com/) .
Fiddle Examiner: What’s coming up in the future?
Chell: We have an Irish show with hip hop artist Christylez Bacon on August 1st and 2nd. (Location not confirmed). Keltish will perform with Irish Mystique at the Kimball Theater in Colonial Williamsburg on October 3, 2015.
For more information about Chelle Fulk…
Music by Anthem website:
Keltish band website: