If you like Celtic music—and even if you think you don’t—tune in to WOMR on Monday nights from five to eight o’clock for The Fiddle and the Harp. One of its three presenters, Denya LeVine, is herself an accomplished musician who took an intriguing route to get to the station.
LeVine grew up south of Boston and started taking music lessons when she was nine years old: “I always knew that I wanted to play the violin.” She had to put it on hold when she was 15 and went away to a boarding school, but she was never far away from music. “I always liked to sing. I used to go to camps where there was a lot of singing, a Jewish camp in Wellfleet, another summer camp in Maine.”
She went to Ithaca College for a couple of years but wasn’t much more at home than she’d been at boarding school. “I was a theater major who just wanted to go to theater school to be a backstage person,” she remembers. “I really didn’t want to go to college.”
Within a year LeVine was in New York City. “I worked as a waitress and volunteered at the Transcendental Meditation Center, then I got a job at the Fillmore East, painting backstage and then in the box office.” She stayed at the legendary concert venue for two years before heading off to India with her boyfriend in search of a spiritual center. “I’d always been a hippie,” she says. “But by then it was really clear that I was fully alternative.” Together they spent four of the next six years out of the country; when India and Pakistan went to war LeVine stayed in Afghanistan. “We took music lessons, we worked on the language, we were cooking supper and breakfast for everybody in our room on a one-burner kerosene stove. Neither of us knew how to cook! Paul played the guitar and we sang a lot and people gathered in our room for the music. I wrote home and they sent me the Judy Collins songbook and the Peter, Paul, and Mary songbook.”
LeVine and her boyfriend traveled overland back to Europe and lived in a commune of 45 people in Belgium for six months where they learned to cook and garden. They heard of a spiritual school, The International School for Continuous Education, starting up in the Cotswolds in England, and eventually lived there for 10 months (after time spent in the US working to save the fees). LeVine moved to Cambridge while her boyfriend went on to Cornell; she commuted to see him for a time but the couple eventually grew too far apart and ended their relationship.
In 1977 LeVine picked up a violin again and by 1978 was in a band and taking classes from an All-Ireland Fiddle Champion. “I loved what I was hearing,” she says. “Everyone was playing Celtic, French-Canadian, Appalachian music.” She started the City Ladies’ String Quartet and saw it graduate from street performances to real work gigs and coffee houses in Cambridge.
She came to the Cape to perform at the Duck Creek Tavern—and ended up making her home in Wellfleet because of it. Working four jobs, she played with Stephen Russell in the Narrow Land String Band and “loads of other bands. I’ve never been band-free since then!” Like other Cape folk musicians, she generally plays in more than one band at a time.
It was Stephen Russell’s show that first drew LeVine to WOMR in 1985. “He had an early folk show and I loved what he was doing,” she says. “There was a lot of it then, Danny Silverman, Richard LeBlond, all these folk guys who helped start the station. Someone was quitting and so I got the slot and started Sail Away Ladies, which was WOMR’s first show with alternating DJs. I did it for 15 years. Then Scott Trask said he wanted to start a Celtic show in the evening, so we started the Fiddle and the Harp. For a while I was doing both of those shows.” LeVine moved to Cotuit for a time and went to one show a month, and that’s the schedule she’s been keeping for the past 12 years. “I usually do something special for my annual anniversary show,” she says. “I give away CDs or toys, I have live musicians on… I always celebrate it somehow.”
Celtic music spoke to LeVine from the start. She took lessons from Séamus Connolley (“not enough of that rubbed off!” she laughs), who told her that she should do two things: teach music (“there weren’t enough people teaching Celtic music”) and go to Ireland. She immediately did the second and “I was hooked,” she says. “I’ve been there 14 times, spending up to three months there. When I became a fulltime musician I couldn’t do that anymore, I had a career. But I still go; this April I was there for two weeks, stayed in a hostel, cooked my own food, and I went to sessions every night. I have such an affinity for the Irish people, the culture, the life. I know I lived in Connemara in another lifetime.”
As soon as she got back from her first trip to Ireland LeVine started WOMR’s participation in International Women’s Day. “I’d made a connection with Margaretta d’Arcy, a writer and activist who ran a pirate radio station out of her bedroom. We got a direct feed from her radio station in Galway to WOMR for the first couple of years.” LeVine also found time to go on the road with the musical Quilters, an experience that “made me realize I can play anything if I want to!”
“I’m not a great musician,” LeVine insists. “I’m a great performer. You don’t have to be technically perfect, but you do have to connect.” She does interactive performances for toddlers, preschoolers, adults with disabilities, seniors in adult day centers, and people in assisted living and nursing homes. “I couldn’t make a living if I didn’t have all those different venues!” She also appears on the second and fourth Friday evenings of each month at The Well in Wellfleet, and plays in a band called the Ukeladies.
In addition, LeVine does a lot of solo work, including “solo strolling” and playing for weddings and memorial services. She offers Italian, Irish, Jewish, French-Canadian, Finnish, Eastern European, and Israeli music for all these events. How does she find the time for all this? Well, to start with—Denya LeVine has never owned a television! You can find out more about her at www.denya.us.