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"I see myself as a teacher first" - Olivia Morelli talks burgeoning music career

by Scott Roos

photos by Deanna Roos

Olivia (left) and sister Emma Morelli at Bluegrass at the Barn 2023. As a duo, the sisters are known as Mary Liv and Emmy Lou

If you’ve even been remotely involved in the Saskatoon area roots music scene, you’ll no doubt know, or at least recognize, who fiddle player Olivia Morelli is. Whether it be from her recent outings with bluegrass crossover act The Local Group, performing the more traditional stylings of Five Guys Named Dave, sharing the stage with her sister in Mary Liv and Emmy Lou or even just from her involvement in the Northern Lights and Old Tyme Music Society’s annual camp, Morelli has made an impactful difference in anything musical that she’s been associated with.


Morelli is classically trained on the violin. Starting at the age of four or five and continuing her instruction until only just recently, these teachings gave her a firm foundation when it comes to her overall technical prowess. Her exposure to fiddling and fiddle music came as a result of the John Arcand Fiddle Fest and later on the Northern Lights Bluegrass and Old Tyme Music Camp. A multi-instrumentalist, it’s also not uncommon to see Morelli with a banjo or guitar. It’s amazing, at the youthful age of nineteen, how much she has been able to accomplish so far in her burgeoning music career.


“I'm making a lot of connections right now,” Morelli tells NSMZ, “That's kind of part of it. It’s just finding people and meeting people so that when somebody says 'that's Olivia' they know who you are and then I get hired more”

Michael Taylor (left) and Olivia (right) accompany fiddler Mitchell Dureault at Bluegrass at the Barn 2022. Taylor will be teaching beginner Mandolin at camp this year

At this point, midway through summer, this strategy has proven effective. With several prestigious gigs already in her rearview mirror, she’s slated to be an instructor at the Northern Light Bluegrass and Old Tyme music camp. She’ll be teaching the beginner guitar class.


“I've had a guitar around me since as long as I can remember but I haven't played guitar for as long as I've played fiddle. Probably about five years ago I started really playing guitar and learning about the instrument and how it works,” Morelli recounts, “Once I started doing that it was the first time I had ever really sung any songs before because the guitar is a singing instrument. It's so much easier to sing while playing guitar. I never sang when I played the fiddle. That seemed weird. It's totally different on a guitar and then once I started doing that I'm like 'this is awesome.' “


Morelli is excited about being the “teacher” this go round at camp. In the past, she’s been a helper at the jam circles - a trusted and capable source of guidance for those who may need encouragement. This will certainly continue but she’s also put a lot of thought into her teaching methodology for the students she’s looking forward to working with.


“My plan is to really stick around the basics at the beginning - getting people used to the basic boom chuck of the guitar, and how to keep rhythm nicely,” Morelli explains,Depending on how beginner the beginner class is I'll work on alternatives to chords that are easier for smaller fingers or for sore fingers or for just fingers that aren't used to playing a guitar. If there are people that already know a bunch of chords, then we can work on 'here's some G7 instead of a regular G chord'. Stuff like that can come out. The other thing that I really want everyone to know by the end of the camp is to fully understand the Nashville numbering system because for a guitar player that is super important at that camp.”


So even though Morelli is at the beginning of her music career herself, she’s already thinking of ways to “pay it forward”. To be honest, that’s just sort of how the bluegrass and old time music culture works.


“I think for me, because I had so many wonderful teachers, I see myself as a teacher first and then as a musician. I absolutely love teaching people new things and even just seeing someone once and then the next time you see them, maybe it's the next Northern Lights Camp, going back and being like 'okay, what tunes do you know' and they come out with another 50 tunes. And you're like 'how did you do that? that's awesome!’. It happens in lots of genres of music but I think because I got into the more roots music. I see that so much more.”


“(At camp), everyone is so excited to learn a new thing and if they see someone doing something, they're like 'How did you do that? What is that? teach me that.’ and I love the idea of everyone being part of the teaching. If you’re a student and you know something that maybe a higher level student doesn't know, you're seen as important enough to teach them that skill,” Morelli continues, “I think even when I play music with other people, even when I'm jamming or playing a show, I always fall back into that feeling of teaching and learning. If I'm on stage and someone in my band does something that I haven't heard them do before I get so excited and I want to figure out what it is. I want to figure out what they did and how I can do that on my instrument.”


The Northern Lights Bluegrass and Old Tyme Music camp will run from August 14th - 18th on the Ness Creek site near Big River. Various levels in classes will be offered on guitar, dobro, banjo, mandolin, fiddle. upright bass, and voice. For the little ones, a “fungrass” option for ages 5-9 is available. The festival will run the weekend of August 18th - 20th. Olivia, along with her sister Emma, known as Mary Liv and Emmy Lou, will be tweeners at the festival this year. The lineup is top notch this year. The whole week, if you register for class and purchase tickets for the festival, is an awesome time. For more info about the camp and festival specifically, visit the society’s website at northernlightsbluegrass.com

Morelli playing banjo with her band Five Guys Named Dave. She credits Jille Shotton for showing her the basics of the instrument

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