By Jodi Marze, Lifestyles Editor
The Picayune Item
Thomas Jenkins, Picayune native and 2002 graduate of Picayune Memorial High School, won the 2013 Louisiana State Fiddle Championship, on July 20, which was held in Nachitoches, La.
“It was my first time to compete in the competition. You had to get through two rounds by playing three tunes in first round and two in second. I played some traditional tunes,” said Jenkins.
Competition was fierce at the event and his win was no sure thing, in spite of his skill and talent.
“They score us on tone, rhythm, timing and skill. There were several really good players, I didn’t win by a large margin, I got first place in one round by one point.
“It was hard practicing for the competition with my full-time job with the Wes Loper Band. I took a week off prior to the competition to polish up my music.”
The youngest of four, Jenkins encountered his first musical instrument at age five, when his brother Patrick was teaching him the first eight notes from the theme of their favorite movie, “Top Gun.”
He was a fast learner and requested a violin for Christmas at age eight. At age nine, he took lessons from his first violin teacher, Kay Lafferty, for about six months. He was later taught by Ann Ulrich for a year and a half.
Jenkins branched out into other forms of music around age 11.
His mother, Linda Jenkins, said, “He began to play fiddle tunes he heard on the radio by ear. His first fiddle influence was Doug Kershaw’s rendition of ‘Orange Blossom Special.’ His goal was to play the song faster than Kershaw — a goal that was met long ago. Soon he was learning songs by Garth Brooks, George Strait, Alan Jackson and the like. He played the songs over and over, learning to match the fiddle parts. He gradually learned to fiddle along with the radio, even if there wasn’t a fiddle part. If no radio was around, he made up his own tunes.”
His mother said Jenkins learned to play French horn in 6th grade band. He went on to be first chair in high school and won competitions with the Mississippi Lion’s Band for two years. He also played orchestral violin and was principal and concertmaster in Slidell’s branch of the Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra. He later became principal horn in the main New Orleans Youth Orchestra.
“I graduated from Picayune Memorial High School and received a horn scholarship to the University of Southern Mississippi in 2002. During this time, I also played horn and violin in the Meridian Symphony Orchestra,” said Jenkins.
“I have spent many years playing with experienced, traditional fiddlers and musicians throughout the South. He has played on television and toured with several bands nationally, including Hank Williams impersonator, David Church. He has also opened for Bob Seger, in Birmingham, Ala.”
Even as he has excelled and performed, he has continued his education in music.
“Thomas has taken lessons with two prominent, country fiddlers: Aubrey Haynie and Buddy Spicher,” said Linda Jenkins.
“My motto is do something today that you couldn’t do yesterday. You have to raise your own bar and not worry about what everyone else is doing,” said Jenkins.