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Larry Downey

“I’m still working on “Trip to Windsor” and several other recent learnings, including, have I mentioned, “Harry Bloodgood’s Hornpipe”, “Bennett’s Favorite Reel”, “The Olive Branch”, “Norton’s Favorite”, and “Deer Foot”. The last one is really review. One of the best is called “ Salamanca”. I will get you a copy of it as soon as I can.”

Larry Downey wrote these words at age eighty-three.

They embody so much of Larry’s spirit: his never-ending love of fiddling, his joy in finding new things to learn in life no matter what age, and the innate teacher within him, eager to share and pass on the music that had brought him so much pleasure. “Fiddlin’s Fun” was Larry’s motto, and he lived it nearly every day of his life.

Larry Downey was born in 1910 in Endicott, New York, a small town set in the rolling green hills not far from the Pennsylvania border. He lived his entire life in the area, working in a shoe factory, as a taxi driver, and as a highway foreman for the county. Whatever his occupation throughout the years, his passion was always for the fiddle.

Larry began fiddling back in 1917 at the age of seven. A traveling salesman sold the instrument to his father for the cost of lessons. For just 75 cents a week for 48 lessons, the fiddle, which came in a cloth sack, was his. Larry played mostly by ear until he was in his 50’s.

Larry played for concerts, coffeehouses, dances, weddings, parties, nursing homes, and school groups. He was inducted into the New York State Fiddlers Hall of Fame, and played many concerts with friend and guitarist Willard Linkroum.

Larry’s taste in music was eclectic, encompassing traditional jigs, reels, polkas and hornpipes as well as songs from the 30’s and 40’s, gypsy violin, jazz, and classical pieces. He had a particular love for fiddle harmonies. Playing second fiddle was one of his favorite pastimes, and he had great fun finding spots for sevenths and diminished chords, especially in older songs. He was amazingly skilled at playing entire pieces double-stopped.

Larry and his sisters

CLICK HERE to read a Fiddler Magazine article on Larry Downey, published in 1999.

Larry loved the sound of a violin played well whatever its realm of style, and always had an ear out for a good tune. He taught fiddle to people of all ages and walks of life, helping them find the joy in the music that had been such a passion in his life. He saw potential in everyone, and was a patient and inspirational teacher.

At Larry’s funeral in May of 2001, fiddlers and friends gathered at his graveside to bid him farewell, and to sing and play a few last tunes with him. Even in his death Larry brought people together. New friendships were formed that day and old ones renewed, and with the inspiration of Larry’s example the “Fiddlin’s Fun” organization was formed.