Passing Time with Fiddler Bronwyn Keith-Hynes
by Susan Marquez
The course of Bronwyn Keith-Hynes’ life was forever changed when she was just three years old.
“We were living in Vermont,” Bronwyn recalls. “I was with my dad when we saw two girls busking on the sidewalk. They were playing the fiddle, and I told my dad, ‘I will do that.’ When I told the story later in life, I said, ‘I want to do that,’ and my dad corrected me. It was an emphatic ‘will’ that impressed my dad enough to get me started playing the fiddle at the age of three.”
Bronwyn did not start out on fiddle, per se. She began like most children do, learning to play the Suzuki method of the violin. “My Suzuki teacher taught me fiddle tunes on the side, and I really gravitated toward that. I preferred to practice the fiddle tunes instead of the Suzuki style.” Bronwyn’s parents hired a fiddle teacher for her, who taught Bronwyn both Celtic and Scottish fiddling. The family moved to Charlottesville, Virginia where, at age ten, Bronwyn was introduced to Irish fiddling. “I changed genres every few years,” she says. But it was a fiddle camp that Bronwyn was introduced to bluegrass fiddling. “I loved everything about it.”
At the age of 16, Bronwyn attended a fiddle camp and heard other students talking about the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
“Berklee has an American Roots Music Program, as well as a songwriting and composing program,” Bronwyn explains. “When I returned home from camp and told my parents I wanted to go to Berklee in the fall, they were kind of shocked.” Bronwyn was homeschooled and she was able to accelerate her studies to graduate early. A few months after she turned 17, she began her studies at Berklee. Not at all intimidated at her young age by the older students surrounding her at Berklee, Bronwyn instead soaked it all in.
“I was exposed to so much, and I learned so much,” she says. “It was a wonderful experience for me.”
Bronwyn stayed in Boston for nine years after graduation and formed the Twelve Mile Band. “I played at a bar called the Cantab Lounge in Boston. It’s famous for Bluegrass music every Tuesday night. I met some incredible musicians there. Our band members actually met each other in the bar.”
The pull of the Nashville music scene was strong, and Bronwyn moved South in 2018. “It’s been an inspiring time in my life.” As a celebration of her first year of living in Nashville, her debut solo album, Fiddler’s Pastime, was released in September. It was recorded last January in Nashville. Les Corbit, the banjo player for the Sam Bush Band, produced the album. “It was a wonderful experience for me,” says Bronwyn, who not only showcases her fiddle-playing talent on the album but her ability to lead a band, supporting the other instrumentalists as well. Wes Corbett contributes banjo playing to the album, along with Jake Stargel on guitar, Harry Clark on mandolin, and Jeff Picker on bass. And the vocalists are as amazing as the musicians on the stunning bluegrass album. Guest vocalists include Sierra Hull, Tim O’Brien, Sarah Jarosz, Chris Ethridge, Laura Orshaw, and James Kee.
On the album, Tim O’Brien performs a melody he wrote to the late 1800’s poem The Minstrel Boy, by Thomas Moore. He also sings tenor harmony on a song performed by James Kee. Sarah Jarosz sings Last Train by Peter Rowan.
After recording the album, Bronwyn says it’s been nice to step back and breathe a bit. Most artists would be disappointed to have put out an album and not be able to tour it. But Bronwyn points out this is not a touring album. “I’m so thrilled to have had so many various artists contribute to the project. But there’s no way everyone could have toured together.”
Bronwyn has used her time during the COVID-19 months to practice a lot. “I have been practicing a lot of traditional bluegrass fiddling and trying to get familiar with the classic bluegrass fiddlers, like Flatt & Scruggs.”
COVID has prevented Bronwyn from touring with her regular band. “We stopped touring in February,” she says. “We had some stuff booked in March, but that was canceled. We haven’t seen each other at all, but we stay in touch. Everyone is in good spirits. We’ve pivoted to other things, such as teaching online.” Bronwyn says she has a full roster of students and teaches full time during the week. “I am fortunate that I still get to do what I love.”
With gigs lined up for summer 2021, Bronwyn says she is looking forward to being in front of a live audience again. For now, she is content.
“I have a great boyfriend, Jason Carter, who plays in the Del McCoury Band. I love my home in Madison, Tennessee, just outside of Nashville. It feels like home, and I love it here. It has everything we want.”