College Bound: Will Fiddle For Tuition

The high, rapid strains of fiddle music filled the air outside the Raley’s market on Hartnell Avenue in Redding Wednesday afternoon. Not canned Muzak. Real fiddle music. Loud and clear.

Under the shade of the store’s awning stood the source of the live concert, Jesse Brazil, 19, of Redding. He held his bow lightly with his right hand and cradled his fiddle firmly with his left as his long fingers raced up and down the strings of his instrument.

The temperatures pushed 100 degrees outside as shoppers walked into and out of the store. Some paused to listen to Brazil, others kept walking, yet others crouched down to drop money into Brazil’s open violin case, dotted with mostly $1-dollar bills. A hand-lettered sign explained everything: “For the Master’s College Tuition.”

Brazil, a college sophmore who lives with his grandparents, Laurel and Marcia Brazil of Redding, said he tried to get a summer job to earn money for school, but he lucked out.

“It’s a tough economy,” he said. “I couldn’t find a job.”

That’s when he created his own luck, and turned to his fiddle as a way to help pay for his tuition at the Master’s College in Santa Clara where he’ll resume studies in August. He’s played since he was 9.

He set up his display, which includes not just his violin-case-turned-donation box, but he also sells CDs of his fiddling for $15 each. Brazil said so far, the stores have been kind enough to let him stay and play, under one condition.

“You have to sound good; people have to like you,” he said. “Otherwise someone would complain and I’d have to go. But so far, no complaints.”

In fact, Brazil said he hears lots of comments; all positive.

“They’ll tell me I sound good,” he said. “And some people cry, because music can move you. Sometimes when I’m playing I feel like crying. I’m moved, too.”

He said some people seem surprised to see him, all 6-feet-6-inches tall, playing his fiddle for hours on end, in the heat of the summer. And he’s noticed that not a day goes by that someone doesn’t say how happy they are to see him fiddle for money, rather just hold up a sign and ask for cash.

“Lots of people tell me, ‘At least you’re working.”

Work he does, six hours a day, every day except Sunday. He’s a self-appointed street musician who performs outside strip-mall stores, such as the Raley’s grocery store on Lake Boulevard, Ross’ Dress for Less on Hilltop Drive or the Raley’s on Hartnell Avenue, where he played late Wednesday afternoon.

His daily goal is $100. So far, the most he’s ever earned in one day is $375. And even his worst day didn’t turn out so bad in the end, becuase on the night he’d not earned a dime outside the Raley’s on Lake Boulevard, things picked up as he headed back to his car, feeling slightly discouraged.

As he took a break between songs to talk Wednesday, his bright blue eyes sparkled as he grinned at the memory. “I found $40 on the ground,” he said. “That made me pretty happy.”

For now, his focus is on getting enough money for school next month, and continuing his music major studies with an emphasis on audio technology. But Brazil’s already planning beyond that, and knows exactly where he wants to be.

“The dream beyond college is to become famous someday,” he said. “I would love to place high at the Weiser Idaho Contest.”

But first, he has many more tunes to play, and people to meet, and classes to take and tuition dollars to earn.

One note at a time.

Independent  online journalist Doni Greenberg founded what’s now known as  anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic.  Prior to 2007 Greenberg was an award-winning newspaper opinion  columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press,  the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She  lives in Redding, CA.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate. Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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