From Educating to Electrifying
Bridgid Bibbens was entranced by violin the moment she saw it. A television show featuring violinist and pedagogue Shin’ichi Suzuki stopped her in her tracks really early on—she started violin lessons at the age of three.
“My parents thought it would be a fun hobby, but thought I’d outgrow it,” she says today, now a professional violinist. But her career didn’t take the classical route she once dreamed. Instead, Bibbens has carved her own path, playing with musical acts spanning Christina Aguilera and Alicia Keys to Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Tommy Lee. She’s appeared on NBC’s Today Show. Bibbens plays a fierce, seven-string, fretted, sparkling hot pink, flying V electric fiddle.
“Anything I’ve done in my career has never been an intentional, conscious decision,” Bibbens says of her unlikely path in the industry. “It’s always been a go with the flow kind of thing.”
Bibbens grew up in Weedsport, New York (outside of Syracuse) learning classical music through the Suzuki method. She excelled naturally and played both oboe and violin in band and orchestra. When she graduated high school, she went on to study oboe and violin performance, immortalizing in her yearbook that her goal was “to be concert master of the Philadelphia Orchestra.”
“I remember telling my high school band teacher that and he said, ‘You should think about teaching,’” she remembers. “I taught lessons in high school, but I thought I didn’t have the patience for people who can’t play well and that I’d be an awful teacher.”
But while attending Syracuse University, Bibbens’ attitude changed. She saw what daily life was like for career violinists and how hard it was to live and work in the orchestral world.
“I had friends auditioning against 200 people for a seat in a D-level orchestra,” she says. “I started to see that professionals I knew in symphonies weren’t happy. It was a daily grind sort of thing. I always wanted to play in a symphony, but I realized I’d be happier teaching and doing performance on the side if I could pick and play music I loved and do it with a passion.”
She got her masters degree in music education at Syracuse, graduating in 2000. She went on to teach in public schools in Fulton, New York, and then Boston. She had already decided to leave the stability of teaching and try her hand as a full-time musician when she met Mark Wood.
Wood, a violinist and electric violin builder, is of the biggest names in the violin world. Bibbens had brought him in for his Electrify Your Strings! (EYS) School music program. Meeting him changed her path forever. “He liked the way I played and my energy,” she says. “We hit it off and he mentioned that he needed someone to help work in his office in New York City. I was planning on moving to L.A., but changed plans at the last minute and moved to New York. The rest is history.”
In 2007, Bibbens made the move and worked as an assistant in Mark Wood’s office. Bibbens worked as an assistant, alongside Wood’s wife, and performed freelance jobs on the side. But eventually, the EYS program grew as much as Bibbens’ performing career and she became a teaching artist in the program.
Bibbens credits her success to keeping her mind open, even when she wasn’t aware of the opportunities before her.
“There are so many possibilities I didn’t realize I had as a 15-year-old kid,” she says. “I said yes to everything—country, rock, jazz. I’d say, ‘Yeah, I can do that’ and then I’d scramble for the week before, reading up, listening. If I wasn’t fluent at something, I was really good at faking whatever style and I was constantly on my toes, playing different genres. It was really fun and opened my eyes.”
Today, Bibbens’ schedule is different every day. Some days she spends teaching students, both through the EYS program and her own Skype lessons, available to anyone in the world. Other days she’s touring and recording with musicians spanning many genres or working toward her latest album.
Bibbens released her debut solo album, Sugar & Steel, in 2013. It pays tribute to those who inspired her by covering songs like “Blackbird” and “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and also includes newer covers like “Rollin’ in the Deep.” On her next, she hopes to overcome a challenge she has danced around until now—putting out a CD of her own original tunes.
“It’s one hurdle I haven’t overcome,” she says. “Bearing your soul that way.”
Even after years as a professional, Bibbens maintains a student’s attitude, humble and ever-learning. She’s also quick to pass along the lessons learned when she first set out on her unlikely path away from her classical dreams.
“The first time I realized I needed to branch out, I sat in with a band (at a bar),” she says. “I went in arrogantly. I thought, I’m this wonderful, classical violinist, and they can’t even read music. I went in with the wrong attitude. I was quickly schooled. I remember clear as day, the bass player looked at me and said, ‘We’re in E, go!’ I thought, what do I do with that information? I was very book smart about theory, but applying it was a completely different story. I might have been playing violin for 20 years at that point, but I couldn’t make music unless it was something someone else had written. It was a real turning point for me—learning how to be a musician, not just spit out the black dots someone else wrote 100 years ago. It was about learning how to make music.”
For scholarship opportunities from the ASCAP Foundation and Mark Wood Electrify Your Music Foundation, submit a contact form on the MWROC website – www.mwroc.com. Deadline for submissions is March 1st.