Violinist and fiddler Miriam Sonstenes performs, composes and teaches music in Victoria, BC, Canada. She is a member of the award-winning acoustic roots trio The Sweet Lowdown
Miriam Sonstenes (Sons – teh – ness) emigrating to Canada from Germany at the age of nine. Music was an integral part of her childhood. Her mother loved classical music, and her father played his clarinet and guitar around the house, introducing her and her siblings to American folk music. Both supported and encouraged music of any kind. While still in Germany, visits to her grandparents house often included a performance – her grandfather was an accomplished classical pianist and her grandmother loved to sing.
Miriam began violin lessons at age 10, and played music at home with her father, brother and sister. Piano lessons followed after her Canadian grandfather, who grew up playing the church organ, donated a piano to the family home. Regular lessons, youth orchestra, school theatre productions and summer music camps provided the foundation of her early music education.
After graduating high school, Miriam began classical violin studies at the Vancouver Academy of Music. Upon completing a Bachelor of Music degree at the University of Victoria in 2006, and freelancing as a classical musician for a few years, Miriam found herself drawn to fiddle music; Irish, Appalachian, swing and bluegrass, the roots music which has come to inspire her current playing, projects and compositions.
A decade of performing and recording with many west coast bands and solo artists has helped shape her original sound. Influences in her style include fiddlers such as Bobby Hicks, Johnny Gimble, Aubrey Hainey, Allison Krauss, Bruce Molsky, Erynn Marshall and Rayna Gellert. Freelance study throughout the Pacific Northwest, Ireland, North Carolina and Louisiana has further enriched her knowledge and appreciation of diverse fiddle traditions.
A member of The Sweet Lowdown since 2009, Miriam has toured Canada, the US and the UK, performing for audiences of folk and roots music lovers to critical acclaim. The trio has produced 3 albums, all recipients of multiple awards and award nominations. Highlight performances include the Canadian Folk Music Awards, Canmore Folk Festival and CBC’s Vinyl Cafe with Stuart McLean.
In 2015 Miriam was awarded a Canada Council for The Arts Musician’s Grant to study with bluegrass fiddler Bobby Hicks in Marshall, North Carolina.
More recently, her original song ‘Don’t Walk Away’ was picked up and recorded by North Carolina bluegrass band Balsam Range, on their 2016 album Mountain Voodoo. In 2017 Mountain Voodoo won the Album of the Year award at the International Bluegrass Music Awards. Another one of her original songs, ‘Leaving’, has been published by Cypress Choral Music.
Miriam is currently performing with guitarist and partner Jeff Dill (Old Paint Duo), The Sweet Lowdown, The Unfaithful Servants, and Borderide Bluegrass Band. In recent years she has performed with John Reischman and The Jaybirds, The Pine Siskins, Nick Hornbuckle, Jesse Cobb, Darren Nicholson Band, Balsam Range, Annie Lou, Daniel Lapp, and Shearwater.
When not on the road, Miriam has a full teaching studio at home. Her straight forward and patient style has made her a sought-after instructor, both in Victoria and across Canada. She regularly teaches at camps in BC and in the North West Territories. She led the Victoria Conservatory Fiddlers for 6 years. Recent camps and workshops include Nimblefingers Bluegrass and Old Time Workshop, Gavin Lake Fiddle Camp, Beyond Trad, Vancouver Island Music Workshop, Northern Lights Bluegrass and Old Tyme Workshop, Fiddleworks, FiddlyNess, and Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music.