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To listen to April Verch is to be immersed in tradition. To watch her perform is to be transported. While best known for her deep expertise in the distinctive Ottawa Valley fiddle and step dancing styles, there is far more to April’s story. Be it regional Canadian roots, American old-time, 50’s Country, Scandinavian folk music, or something original that sounds as though it’s been around for a century—the one common thread is her love and reverence for the music and traditions that have been passed down to her.
Born in the heart of the Ottawa Valley in northeastern Ontario, Verch was trained from birth in the specific rhythms and melodies of the region, giving her music a sense of intuition and ease that could only come from a lifetime of experience. Growing up bouncing between weekend festivals and listening to her Dad’s country band play for dances, she assumed that this is just what life is. “I thought that everyone played the fiddle and step danced,” says Verch. And that worked just fine for her. She loved it all—the energy, the music, and the stories that were woven into these age-old community traditions.
Verch’s musical education began young—she took her first step dancing class at just three years old and her first fiddle lesson at six. Beginning with performances as the “token cute kid” at fairs, festivals and TV shows alongside her dance teachers, Ottawa Valley natives Buster and Pauline Brown, she went on to study at Berklee College of Music with legends like Matt Glaser and Darol Anger. These educational opportunities would equip her with the breadth and depth of musical knowledge that defines her artistic voice to this day. But more than that, her decades of performance experience—including her historic wins at the Canadian Grand Masters Fiddling Championship and Canadian Open Old-Time Fiddlers’ Contest at the ages of 18 and 19 respectively—would give her a singular bond with the music, providing her with the intuition to “dance the tune” and improvise with incredible fluency in both fiddling and step dancing.
Buoyed by her competition success, she struck out on her own to make it as a full-time professional musician. Verch got her first taste of career musicianship touring with established acts like Canadian country music legend Tommy Hunter and Celtic pop band Mad Pudding as a backing fiddler. But her dream was always to form her own band, representing the Ottawa Valley and the sounds of home. In 2000, she first began touring under her own name, the April Verch Band. Initially formed as a pickup band centered around her own fiddle and dance stylings, the band would grow and blossom into an established trio of world-class musicians, spanning several musical traditions and backgrounds, yet all united in their mission to share the music they love. Together the April Verch Band has traveled to four continents, performed in fourteen countries, and played everywhere from tiny pubs and dusty festival workshops all the way to legendary stages such as the Kennedy Center and the Ryman Auditorium.
After gaining some experience as a bandleader in her own right, Verch would tour with Canadian fiddle supergroup Bowfire—working as a side member to the finely-tuned machine of a major show production. Verch also toured as special guest with acclaimed Irish tenor, John McDermott.
Her virtuosity and reverence for tradition would eventually lead Verch to one of the true highlights of her career: participating in the Opening Ceremonies for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. “It was so touching to be part of representing the Canadian fiddle tradition to the world. I thought about all the fiddlers who came before us… and about what they would say if they knew that the producers of the Olympics had chosen to include that segment.” It blew her away. She felt that she owed it to them—all the legends that she had met and all the ones who had influenced her music and career—to do it right. “I was more nervous about that than about the fact that there were so many people who were going to be watching.”
It was this incredible experience that would give her the courage to take on new challenges. Though she had been nervous in her earlier career about picking up multiple projects—afraid that they might interfere with each other—she had now come to realize that, in fact, music begets music. So, in addition to her work leading the April Verch Band, she would begin a new project in partnership with American old-time legend Joe Newberry in 2016. Together, Newberry & Verch have played everything from the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Wide Open Bluegrass Festival in Raleigh, North Carolina to the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow, Scotland. The success and fulfillment of that project led to even more collaborations, including one with Estonian quartet Curly Strings titled The Heritage Projekt in 2018, and now a duo with her husband and longtime collaborator Cody Walters in 2020.
Regardless of the configuration, Verch’s diverse repertoire and unbridled passion come to life on stage with a presence that is versatile, robust, and masterfully executed. Audiences remark at her sincerity in sharing stories between tunes. Her delicate voice, energetic footwork, sand paper foot percussion and stunning playing (sometimes combined all at once!) are jaw-dropping. Her ability to preserve the authentic folk traditions of the past and reintroduce them into the musical landscape of the present is a testament to her expert musicianship and widespread appeal.
Passing along the music is, in itself, central to the traditions that Verch has built a life and career within, so it will come as no surprise that teaching has been at the heart of Verch’s work from the very beginning. Not only has she released a book of original fiddle tunes, a Canadian fiddle method book for Mel Bay Publications, and a self-produced instructional step dance DVD—she also weaves teaching into her tour schedule whenever possible. Teaching camps, master classes, and workshops along the road gives her yet another way to preserve, honor, and connect with the traditions she holds dear.
Even now, after more than two decades leading her own band and with 14 albums in her name (two of which were nominated for JUNO Awards, among other honors), there is nothing that fulfills Verch or gives her more joy than playing and sharing her music with the world. “It’s like the reward for everything else,” she says. Verch never forgets the roots of her music, that connection to the people out there in the audience or on the dance floor, to the community sparked by a good song. “It’s about joining together to celebrate everyday life, through music. We’re all in this together.” And so she presses onward: diving deep into musical tradition, bringing people together and forging connections, and sharing her insight and genuine love for the music she plays so well.
Husband and wife duo April Verch & Cody Walters is a true partnership of kindred musical spirits, each a
world-class musician in their own right. Combining their unique backgrounds from Verch’s native Ottawa Valley and Walters’ heartland roots in Kansas, their music showcases endless creativity and versatility—transitioning effortlessly from traditional Ottawa Valley step dancing and fiddle tunes, to old-time fiddle-banjo duets with tight-knit vocal harmonies, to innovative sandpaper foot percussion, all contrasted against Verch’s sweet soprano voice.
Verch and Walters began playing together in 2007 when Walters joined the April Verch Band as their bassist. Initially formed as a pickup band centered around Verch’s own fiddle and dance stylings in 2000, the band grew and blossomed into an established trio of world-class musicians, spanning several musical traditions and backgrounds, yet all united in their mission to share the music they love. Together they have traveled to four continents, performed in fourteen countries, and played everywhere from tiny pubs and dusty festival workshops all the way to legendary stages such as the Kennedy Center and the Ryman Auditorium. In 2018—fittingly amidst their ever-busy tour schedule—April and Cody were married.
During the heart of COVID lockdowns in 2020, the couple began performing as a duo out of necessity, and learned firsthand that sometimes, art born of necessity can yield unexpectedly beautiful results. They developed new material, arrangements and a concert performance that hum with the ease and playfulness that can only be cultivated through deep understanding and trust—as musicians and as partners.
The duo’s diverse repertoire and unbridled passion come to life on stage with a presence that is versatile, robust, and masterfully executed. Audiences remark at their sincerity in sharing stories between tunes. Verch’s delicate voice, energetic footwork, sand paper foot percussion and stunning playing (sometimes combined all at once!) are jaw-dropping. Walters’ melodic banjo stylings, solid rhythm guitar accompaniment and tasteful vocal harmonies are at once understated and brilliant, dueting with Verch’s skills in glorious harmony. Their ability to preserve the authentic folk traditions of the past and reintroduce them into the musical landscape of the present is a testament to their masterful musicianship and widespread appeal.
Growing up, Joe Newberry and April Verch absorbed traditions of home and hearth – in his Missouri Ozarks and her Ottawa Valley of Canada. Although they are on the road much of the year, the two musicians are fond of saying that they are rarely homesick, because their music means they always have a bit of home with them wherever they go.
Joe Newberry comes from a family of singers and dancers. He took up the guitar and banjo as a boy and learned fiddle tunes from great Missouri fiddlers. April Verch grew up listening to her Dad’s country band play for dances in the Ottawa Valley. She started step dancing at age three and fiddling at age six. In a Newberry & Verch show, delighted audiences see first-hand the roots of their music, their love of performing, and their strong musical connection. Original songs join timeless classics. Stories warm the heart, and give
audiences a chance to understand where the music comes from. Lively fiddle and banjo numbers combine with traditional dance steps to
illustrate happy times when people made their own fun.
Known around the world for his clawhammer banjo playing, Newberry is also a powerful guitarist, singer and songwriter. The Gibson Brothers’ version of his song “Singing As We Rise,” featuring guest vocalist Ricky Skaggs, won the 2012 IBMA “Gospel Recorded Performance” Award. With Eric Gibson, he shared the 2013 IBMA “Song of the Year” Award for “They Called It Music.” A longtime guest on A Prairie Home Companion, he was a featured singer on the Transatlantic Sessions 2016 tour of the U.K., and at the Transatlantic Session’s debut at Merlefest in 2017. In addition to his work with April Verch, he plays in a duo with mandolin icon Mike Compton. He also plays and teaches at festivals and workshops in North America and abroad.
Before launching her professional career, Verch was the first woman to win both the Canadian Grand Masters and Canadian Open Fiddling Championships. In 2000, she formed “The April Verch Band,” and together they have toured the world, performing in 18 different countries. She has released 12 solo recordings to date, receiving JUNO, Canadian Folk Music and Independent Music nominations and awards for several of those releases. She has also released an instructional stepdance DVD, a book of original fiddle tunes, and a Canadian Fiddle tune teaching method for Mel Bay. Verch was one of 6 fiddlers who represented the Canadian fiddle tradition to the world at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, as part of a segment called “Fiddle Nation” featured in the Opening Ceremonies.
Ever since Newberry & Verch met, and discovered a musical spark that few can match, they have toured across North America, Europe, and the U.K., including Nova Scotia’s signature festival Celtic Colours International Festival, the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in New York state, and Celtic Connections in Glasgow, Scotland. Their CD, “Going Home,” was released to wide acclaim. Whether it is the power of two voices lifted in harmony, or the sound of traditional tunes calling people to get up and move, these two masters of tradition put on an unforgettable show. And, when their feet kick up the dust in perfect rhythm and those two voices become one, Joe Newberry and April Verch make folks remember why this music existed in the first place.
Check out tour dates to find out when they’ll be near you! (Look for the tour dates marked ***Newberry & Verch)
Check out this great video of Joe & April performing the title track of their debut release “Going Home” in Sheffield, UK, and then find more great videos on their YouTube Playlist!
A special step dance collaboration by April Verch & Simon Harmer
Acclaimed step dancers April Verch (Canada) and Simon Harmer (UK) have come together to work on a special new project, Steps From The Heart. Combining research, new choreography, performance and teaching, it celebrates two of their dance heroes, Donnie Gilchrist and Alex Woodcock. April and Simon are working collaboratively to create new steps, with the finished performances being filmed in late 2021. The new piece will be premiered as part of an online presentation and interview about the project and its sources of inspiration. There will also be a workshop the following day teaching key elements of the new steps, with the two Zoom events scheduled for January 8 & 9, 2022.
April Verch is an award-winning musician and dancer who has been dancing since the age of three and fiddling since the age of six! She has recorded fourteen solo albums, and toured and taught worldwide for over 20 years. April grew up in Pembroke, Ontario, and the rich musical and dancing heritage of the Ottawa Valley region is at the heart of her work. Beginning with the tunes and step dancing of the early loggers, it also incorporates influences from French, Scottish, German, Polish and Irish settlers. A member of the Instep Research Team, Simon Harmer hails from the south of England and has been teaching and performing step dance styles for over 30 years, including English clog, Appalachian clogging and Canadian steps from Quebec, Ontario and Cape Breton Island. More recently he has been focusing on the social stepping traditions of the English counties of Sussex and Hampshire.
April contacted Simon after stumbling across the Step Your Way video on YouTube, a project Simon worked on with hip-hop dancer and choreographer Sasha Biloshisky. April and Simon quickly found themselves taking the first steps towards this new collaboration. Their huge respect for and understanding of the legacy of their dance teachers and mentors (what’s becoming known as “dancestry” thanks to dance scholar, Janet Schroeder) inevitably led to the question, “If you had to name one dancer whose influence is still having impact on your dance journey, who would that be?”
April’s answer was Donnie Gilchrist, born in 1925 in Campbell’s Bay, Quebec. Donnie took dance lessons from the age of 4, and after the family moved to Ottawa in 1935 he supplemented their income by dancing at street markets and in dance halls. An international touring and teaching career eventually followed. Gilchrist is widely considered the pioneer of the Ottawa Valley dance tradition and it has long been part of April’s mission to help preserve elements of this style for future generations, including the ability to “dance the tune” and improvise. Simon’s selection was Alex Woodcock, born in Alnwick, Northumberland in 1922. Alex’s father (a miner) arranged for him to take dance lessons from Cuthbert May, son of champion clog dancer and teacher Eddie May. Alex went on to learn hornpipe, waltz and schottische steps, tap routines, and also learned and subsequently taught ballroom dancing and other popular dances of the day. Later in life Alex became better known throughout the UK clog dancing community as a performer and teacher with an engaging performance style.
The Main Event
The legacy of Donnie Gilchrist and Alex Woodcock is at the core of this fascinating project, further shaped by April and Simon’s thorough research, outstanding artistry and passion for their subject. The new piece will be premiered as part of an online presentation and discussion, with April and Simon in conversation with fellow step dancers and educators Toby Bennett (UK) and Sherry Johnson (Canada). April and Simon will then teach key elements of the new steps in the following day’s workshop, with the two Zoom events scheduled for January 8 & 9, 2022. Steps From The Heart is sure to be of interest to every step dance enthusiast, teacher and scholar!
When & Where
Saturday, January 8, 2022 – Presentation and performance
Sunday, January 9, 2022 – Workshop
Live on Zoom at 11:00 AM EST / 4:00 PM UK time
Need help checking what time that is where you live? Try this website.
If you’d like to get regular updates about the project & join the conversation in advance, please consider joining (and/or sharing!) our Facebook Event!
How to attend
Our Steps from the Heart presentation and workshop will both be hosted on Zoom. You’ll be able to join us from your computer, phone or tablet using the zoom link you receive by email. (You’ll receive a confirmation email for your ticket as soon as you order, but the zoom link will be emailed the day before.) You will only need to purchase one ticket per household or per device that you want to watch on (the whole family can gather around one computer with one ticket.)
Using the button below, you can name your ticket price. Did we say “name your ticket price?” Yes we did! You can base it on whether you’re planning to attend both events (there will be a separate link for each.) If you’re doing well these days and are able to support this project and the artists, a suggested ticket donation would be $30 total to attend both events. If you’re out of work right now or struggling, just give what’s comfortable for you. If you recently won the lottery or inherited a fortune, please be generous ;) In any case, we would love for you to join us and please give what you can – no questions asked or explanations required! Tickets will be charged in USD so we’re including an approximate idea of conversions below to help you gauge your currency.
Some rough guess approximate conversions to help you do the math:
$10 USD / £7 / $12 CAD
$15 USD / £11 / $18 CAD
$20 USD / £15 / $25 CAD
$35 USD / £25 / $43 CAD
*Please remember to select “digital” under shipping so you won’t be charged shipping for your ticket.
*If you have any issues after clicking the “add to cart” button please click the shopping cart in the very top right corner of your screen to complete your check out.
*Ticket sales will end on January 7, 2022 so don’t wait until the day of the event to purchase.
We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts
Nous remercions le Conseil des arts du Canada de son soutien
The Heritage Projekt combines the talents of two celebrated bands; Curly Strings, a four-piece from Estonia, and the April Verch Band, a trio lead by Ottawa Valley (Ontario, Canada) native, April Verch. The beginnings of this collaboration were simple. A mutual respect for each others music, a couple of brief chance meetings, and most importantly, the discovery of their mutual passion for the early traditional music of their homelands.
The set list for the Heritage Projekt begins by presenting the oldest form of music from both bands’ traditions, builds into medleys that highlight songs and tunes from Estonia and the Ottawa Valley that sound like long-lost cousins, then melds into selections both bands have composed together that fit within these traditions. It’s a journey of their roots and influences from history into present day. It is an opportunity to preserve and continue this heritage music all at once.
Both bands grew up rooted in the music of their specific region, honed their musicianship, and began to draw inspiration from other sources in forging their own brand of roots music. For Curly Strings that included blending inspiration from American bluegrass with their Estonian cultural space, and for the April Verch Band, fusing Old Time American, Scandinavian and classic country influences with regional Canadian styles.
While standing in a long line together at a burger joint in New York City, the bands entered into deep discussions and comparisons about their homelands and musical traditions, and quickly discovered that they had a lot in common. Both Estonian and Ottawa Valley traditional music styles grew out of a mixed pot of cultures and people, and included dance music from the various immigrants who settled in each location. A question emerged amongst these young musicians from opposite sides of the globe. What would a collaboration sound like that honored these timeless traditions and celebrated the common ground of these unique ethnic styles? Thus began, The Heritage Projekt.
This partnership is also an opportunity for both bands to revisit the roots that their music comes from, without concerns for having it fit their current band sound. Eeva Talsi of Curly Strings says “it’s something that both our bands have wanted to do for some time, and it’s been even more fun and exciting to do it as a team.” April Verch agrees, “by combining our efforts, we’re able to present our ethnic styles to each other, and to more and different parts of the world than we would be able to just on our own.”
Following their three week debut tour (July 2019) book ended with appearances at Kaustinen Folk Music Festival (Finland) and Viljandi Folk Music Festival (Estonia) and a Canadian debut at La Grande Rencontre (Montreal, September, 2019) this new collaboration has already found a place in the hearts of audiences around the world and is in great demand to continue their blend of traditional and original material on the international stage.