The Fiddler in the North

Simon Crelli is a Yukon musician with quite an impressive resume, and a mentor to many of the territory’s young musicians

Simon Crelli likes to let his music do the talking. Though he chooses his words carefully speaking to What’s Up Yukon, he still says relatively little, as he doesn’t usually talk about himself all that much. Instead, the fiddler and violinist finds that, through music, he is able to express what he can’t find the words to say. Music has always been Crelli’s preferred means of communication, since he started playing at age seven. He was still a child when he decided music was what he wanted to spend his life pursuing.

“It took a bit of training for a few years,” he says. “It took around four years for me to start learning something and feel like it was going somewhere.”

Though Crelli has dabbled with a few other interests and hobbies, like dog mushing, skiing and studying history, it was always music with which he had the most special connection. He was raised in a musical family, but also practically out in the wilderness in both the Yukon and Alaska—Crelli’s mother, Marcia Toland, still describes their family as “very low-tech people.”  

“We’d spend a few months out here and there and I’d practice in the cabin,” says Crelli. “I’d have music from my instructor I’d take out and work on over the winter.” 

Crelli has lent his skills to many different ensembles and symphonies in several cities over the years, and also recognizes the importance of sharing his talents with the next generation as a teacher. He helps out with the Fiddleheads, a group of young fiddlers in Whitehorse, and teaches fiddle in Dawson City as well. Growing up, Crelli was also a musical mentor for his younger sister. 

“It’s a good feeling; it’s nice to see young people develop their skills,” Crelli says of his teaching work. “To be able to pass it on and watch them grow and have fun with it is a nice thing to see.” 

Crelli still makes music with his family, most recently featuring at a Coffee House event at the Whitehorse United Church. He says he hopes to soon enough be able to return to Fairbanks and Vancouver to rekindle his musical connections in person in these two cities, and has been having jam sessions over Zoom with old friends.

“That’s a lot of what playing with other people constitutes right now,” he says.

In addition to his teaching and virtual jam sessions, Crelli read on the StoryHour, a show on Dawson City’s CFYT radio channel. He also makes sure he finds the time to practice every day, and learning some new violin concertos. For Crelli, keeping up his practice regimen is important, and he’s grateful to still be able to play after an accident a few years ago that left him unable to move his arm for several months. Eventually, he was able to pick the fiddle back up, but it was a long and strenuous road to being able to play a full song again, let alone an entire set.

“It started out slow,” he says. “It took about three months, but once I got to it, it felt like I was back to normal.”

Hanging on Crelli’s wall is a quote that reads:

“For the common things of every day, God gave man words in a common way. But for the heights and depths words cannot reach, God gave man music, the soul’s own speech.

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