MEET ‘CAPT’ GAYELAuthor Gayel Pitchford (the 2010 California State Senior Fiddle Champion) is an old-time fiddler with shelves full of trophies won in fiddle contests which attest to her playing ability. She became interested in Howdy Forrester after hearing his playing on a fiddle anthology CD. She transcribed the tune, learned to play it, and as she does with things which truly interest her, pursued information on Howdy Forrester with a vengeance. Unfortunately, there was very little in print about this “giant among fiddlers.” Her nearly five years of research culminated in this book, Fiddler of the Opry, where she makes his story and his music available to fiddlers and fiddle enthusiasts alike.Pitchford began piano lessons at age 5, after she came home from Sunday School and picked out “Jesus Loves Me” on the old upright piano in their living room. She had always heard music in a special way and would add little improvisations and licks to the pieces in her lesson, for which her piano teacher soundly punished her. After a time, she began to campaign to play the violin, so she could get away from the abusive teacher and yet still play music. She began violin at nine, learning classical music and yet taking the tunes they had learned in singing class and moving them onto the violin and piano—tunes like “Red River Valley,” “Comin’ Around the Mountain,” and “Arkansas Traveler,” without ever knowing she was actually doing fiddling.In those days Conservative Baptists didn’t dance, so she was never exposed to square dancing and fiddle music, but clearly her heart was there.Music has been her life-long avocation, and she taught herself to play guitar and sing folk songs, paying for part of her college education by singing and playing for shows and hootenannies. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in American Studies from California State University at Los Angeles and a Master’s Degree from the University of Redlands.After a long career as a Vice President of Human Resources, coupled with 28 years spent in the Naval Reserve, Pitchford took early retirement and moved to Tehachapi, a small town in the mountains north of Mojave and east of Bakersfield, CA. Music soon began her vocation . She began teaching violin and viola lessons and then discovered the “genre” of fiddling and began teaching all her students to fiddle as well. She plays in fiddle contests all over the West and performs as Fiddlin’ Red Hattie with her band, the Friends of Hattie Band, always wearing her signature red hat. They play for shows, dances, parties and an occasional political rally.She is the Concertmaster of the national award-winning Tehachapi Community Orchestra and conducts the Tehachapi Junior String Orchestra and Carden School Orchestra. She serves as State Director for District 3 of the California State Old Time Fiddlers Association and is a member of the American String Teachers’ Association, American Symphony Orchestra League, and Association of California Symphony Orchestras. She also plays first violin in the string quartet “Four with a Score.” She has composed a number of fiddle tunes and is currently working on a classical piece, The Prague Sonata, for violin and piano.
Whenever the best fiddlers gather to play music, they inevitably mention the name Howdy Forrester, as one after another tries to emulate the soaring double stops and elegant tone of this grand master of Opry fiddlers. The dream of fiddlers everywhere is to master Forrester’s demanding tunes, such as “Memory Waltz,” “Weeping Heart,” and “Rutland’s Reel.” Forrester spent more than thirty-eight years on the Grand Ole Opry, most of them with Roy Acuff and the Smoky Mountain Boys, and established a legacy no fiddler will probably ever match.