The sound was familiar yet fresh and innovative.
It stirred musical memories and made me what to hear more. Did I really recognize the distinctive sound of that fiddle? I checked the credits on Paul Keim’s new CD ranunculus.
Yes, it was Trent Freeman. I remembered him as a youngster fiddling up a storm in the Comox Valley. Now he’s in Vancouver finding his path as a full-time musician.
It all began when Freeman was five.
“My parents gave me the choice of taking violin or piano lessons,” the 22-year old says. “I really wanted to play the guitar so I picked the violin.”
He studied classical violin with Mary Hill then met the Brown family and was instantly drawn to their style of fiddle music.
“I took some lessons with them and then Frankie Rogers, a great violin player from Vancouver came to town and I took a lesson with him. That was really it; I was into fiddle music from then on.”
It wasn’t long before Freeman was playing at dances and shows and winning fiddle contests throughout B.C. He’s been a finalist in the Canadian Grand Masters Fiddling Championships five times.
In his teens Freeman taught at summer music camps – more than 15 of them – where he shared his skills with students of all ages and abilities. He also worked as a backup musician, session player and solo performer.
Somewhere along the way he found time to direct Fiddlejam, a 40-member band that met weekly and played at dances and performances. In 2007 he received the Mentor of the Year Award for his work with the group. His first CD, There’s a Fiddle in the Attic, was released in 2004.
“The last four or five years I’ve been focusing on jazz.” Freeman says. “I’ve been transcribing solos for trumpet, sax and other instruments and just immersing myself in the style. But I play with a lot of bands – bluegrass, R&B, Celtic – so the music I write is a culmination of all my experiences.”
After high school Freeman studied orchestral instruments at the University of British Columbia before transferring to the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
“Going to Berklee was totally life-changing and musically the best thing I could have done,” he says. “It’s had a huge influence on my music. As well as the instructors, you’re surrounded by all these incredible musicians from around the world that are also there to study. It’s amazing.”
That doesn’t mean the experience wasn’t without some stress. Students have to audition to get into Berklee and Freeman played a lot of gigs, some with his own band, Trent Freeman and the Freemen, both in the U.S. and Canada to pay for his education.
He also participated in the NASCAR Appalachian Tour, an exploration of NASCAR through music, moonshine and cars.
“That was a blast to work on,” Freeman says. “One of the best things about being a freelance musician is that you get to work on a whole lot of interesting projects.”
School finished in January and Freeman moved back to the West Coast, where he’s now based in Vancouver as a session musician and sideman.
“A lot of what I play depends on the gig,” he says. “And that’s where I get a lot of inspiration for writing music, from playing with others. I love the collaboration and feedback of working with others.”
Freeman is composing music for a new album he’ll record at Keim’s Dove Creek Studio and release early next year.
“Writing and playing instrumentals, which most of my work is, can be challenging,” he says. “Lyrics use a language everyone can understand. it takes more effort to listen to, translate and connect with instrumental sounds. I work hard to make my melodies speak like a voice to the listener no matter what perspective they’ve coming from. I want to intrigue people enough to find the meaning and emotion in the music.”
Not long ago Freeman combined some video footage and music to create a Youtube clip titled As We Pray, the creation of the perfect acoustic space.
“I recorded 11 or 12 fiddle tracks and one bass track in my room in Vancouver then went to Comox and took a camera and my mom to the beach,” he says. “It was a lot of fun.”
The video can be viewed at www.trentfreeman.com.
Freeman is making the transition from studying musician to working musician.
“Musicians are always learning,” he says. “But now it’s time to focus on my career. I’ve been playing a lot of gigs, learning about the music industry and figuring out what appeals to me and what doesn’t.
“The only way to do that is to play lots of gigs. Sometimes it’s a challenge but that stretches me as a musician.”
To others hoping to make music a career, Freeman says, “Always play your favourite music and find a way to make music your favourite thing. Follow the melodies in your head, follow the melodies in your soul and be open to everything.”