Elmore Fiddle Camp
Randy Elmore

Valerie Ryals

“Why, when she was born I thought she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. We could tell she was musical ever since she was a little bitty thing. She’d go around humming and trying to sing before she could even talk,” recalled Phern Ryals, proud mother of Valerie Delaine Ryals. Valerie’s fascination with music led to an epiphany when she was three years old; she discovered her mother’s fiddle stored under her parents’ bed. “I’d just pluck the strings and I fell in love with the sound. I knew then that I had to learn to play the fiddle.”

Valerie’s formal instruction with music began at age nine. Upon entering fourth grade she enrolled in orchestra where she learned the rudiments of technique and reading music on the staff. Her dedication and obvious passion for the instrument came to the attention of her grandfather, O.G. Ryals, a fiddler of the old time folk tradition, who introduced little Valerie to Rubber Dolly. Although she has never forsaken her connection with the classical realm, she knew that the tunes her granddaddy played struck a resonance in her very heart and soul. Following the advice of L.T. Childress, Valerie’s parents began taking her to local fiddle contests where she could, as a spectator, absorb some of what the fiddle players were doing. Moreover, she was able to meet and receive one-on-one guidance from such icons as Dale Morris, Claude Henson, Eck Robertson, Benny Thomasson, Jim “Texas Shorty” Chancellor, Major Franklin, Tommy Hughes, Jesse Mears, and the legendary Solomon brothers, Norman and Vernon. “At the time, there weren’t many females in the fiddling world who seemed to really stick with it,” recalls Valerie. “But I’ll always remember the kindness and patience of the wonderful gentlemen who helped me get started playing. They became like family members.” At age thirteen, Valerie’s dedication finally started paying off when she won the Junior World Championship in Crockett, Texas.

After graduating high school in 1973, Valerie enrolled in the Suzuki teacher-training program at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. The Suzuki – or “mother tongue” – approach has proven itself a valuable resource in teaching not only classical, but music in the old time Texas genre. Valerie remembers her mother cautioning her when she was a teenager that she’d better practice and stay serious about her music because some day she may have to rely on it for a livelihood. Phern’s advice turned out to be more prophetic than she probably realized at the time.

Biography Continues.....

Valerie Ryals

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