Trophies stand where the television once did at the Mussareds’ Richmond home.
Stop by, and music likely is playing as 14-year-old Georgia Rae saws away at her fiddle. Head cocked, smile on her face, her fingers and arms move at twice the speed as the nearby dog’s wagging tail.
Sometimes, her mother, Ronilyn, plays along with her, strumming the guitar. She’s always listening.
“Georgia, you just went up a rung on the ladder,” she’ll say when she hears her daughter’s talent advance.
“And then she cries,” Georgia Rae added.
Music, specifically bluegrass, is the family’s passion, so much so that life pretty much revolves around it for the Mussareds.
The trophies represent Georgia Rae’s numerous wins at various competitions since she began playing the fiddle at age 5.
To prepare for her latest competition, the Illinois State Old Time Fiddle Contest, Georgia Rae asked to perform during lunchtime at Richmond-Burton Community High School. She attends part time and is home schooled the rest of the time so she can get in at least four hours of fiddle playing a day.
Performing in front of her peers makes Georgia Rae the most nervous. She wanted to confront those fears head-on.
“Some people booed me and talked over me,” she said. “I was really sad about it, but then going to state I forgot about it. And then I won.”
The teenager beat out adults in the competition, which has been won in the past by fiddle greats, such as Alison Krauss and Aaron Weinstein.
As the 2013 grand champion of the Fiddler’s Contest on Oct. 20, Georgia Rae now advances to the National Old Time Fiddler’s Contest in June in Weiser, Idaho.
The youngest to ever win that competition was 17.
“I’m not expecting to win,” Georgia Rae said. “I’m just going to go there and do my best.”
Just getting there in the first place was unexpected, Ronilyn Mussared said.
The mother knew her daughter one day would compete on a national level, just not that soon.
Still, she’s raised Georgia Rae, as well as her four sisters, with the attitude, “There’s nothing we can’t do if we just put our minds to it.”
That’s an attitude that has carried the family through some tough times, when money was tight and trips to the food pantry were necessary. To afford music lessons and the equipment, the family trimmed the budget as much as they could, giving up the television and other perks.
Ronilyn and Georgia Rae began playing music at nursing homes for $25 a gig. Soon, the rest of the family joined in. Kelly Jo, 17, took on the role of lead vocalist as well as banjo, bass and washboard player, while 13-year-old Quin plays mandolin.
They became the Georgia Rae Family Band in 2011 and since have been performing throughout the area. Writing their own songs, the band has released two CDs at www.georgiaraefamilyband.com.
“Our hard times are blessings,” Ronilyn said. “You don’t see it right away. ...
“We’ll play for anyone who pays us. It takes money to support this. They’re learning business, and I’m learning it with them,” she said of her daughters, who rise at 5 a.m. daily to get some band practice time in before school.
Just the traveling expenses to Idaho aren’t something the family can really afford. To help with the costs, Ronilyn set up a fundraising page at www.gofundme.com/4xgutk.
The idea is for the family to perform at various spots along the way home. Georgia Rae didn’t want to go without her sisters, having become so much closer to them since the family formed the band and stopped fighting over the television remote control.
“I really wanted my sisters to come along because they’re my support,” Georgia Rae said. “They’re also my best friends. I wouldn’t want to travel all that way without my best friends.”
They share a “common goal” that has brought them together, Ronilyn said.
Family conversations often become lyrics.
“They’ll say something, and I’ll say, ‘That’s a line for a song,’ “ Ronilyn said.
“Like, ‘It feels like a dream, and I never want to wake up,’ “ Georgia Rae added.
Easy-going and always happy as a child, Georgia Rae had the disposition to learn music and was born with the talent, Ronilyn said. She now gives as well as takes lessons, teaching a couple of 7-year-old students weekly.
A fan of Mumford & Sons – “If I think about them too hard, I start to cry.” – Georgia Rae said she wants to pass along the joy she feels when she plays. She enjoys classical music but loves how bluegrass allows her to play the way she feels.
With bluegrass, you can “step out of the box” a bit, as her mother encourages her to do.
“Even if I don’t get to do everything I love, I know I love playing music a lot more than going to dances and football games,” Georgia Rae said. “It’s always good to be different. People will ask, ‘How do you live without TV?’ I have music.”
And no matter what happens, Ronilyn said, they’ve already succeeded.
“We’ve got our health. We’ve got our music. We’ve got each other. We don’t need much more than that,” she said.By JAMI KUNZER – firstname.lastname@example.org