NEW PLYMOUTH — Makaela Shippy, 17, doesn’t participate in team sports and hasn’t mapped out any plans to attend college after she graduates from New Plymouth High School next spring, but this doesn’t mean she lacks passion, isn’t studious, or doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life.
Quite to the contrary, Makaela is intensely focused on what will surely be a lifelong love, and, she expects, a livelihood: her music.
“I plan to do some-thing with music, whether it’s teaching, playing in a band, or all of the above,” she said.
Makaela, who plays and teaches fiddle and guitar, is the reigning Idaho State fiddling champion in the junior division.
Currently she’s trying to raise the money to attend her most prestigious gig to date: the receptions immediately preceding and following the lighting ceremony Dec. 6 for the U.S Capitol Christmas Tree on the West Front Lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building.
Makaela’s mom, Kelli Shippy, said the pre-ceremony reception is hosted by Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, and Idaho Senator Mike Crapo performs those honors for the second reception.
Makaela will be performing in a quartet which also includes fiddlers Katrina Nicolayeff and Macy Keller, of Meridian and Nampa, respectively, with Post Falls resident Terry Ludiker furnishing accompaniment on guitar.
Shippy said Nicolayeff has been her daughter’s fiddle teacher for most of Makaela’s fiddling career. She said Makaela started on fiddle at age 5, and began competing at 6. Shippy said the youth’s competitions have taken her numerous times to other western states, including Washington, Wyoming and California. In October 2015, the fiddling teen took what was at that time her most special trip — to Nashville, Tennessee, to compete in the Grand Master Fiddle Championship at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
Makaela finished ninth at the Nashville competition.
After that, she had three first-place finishes this year — at the Northwest Regionals in Spokane, Washington, in April, in the Idaho State Fiddle Contest in May, and in October at the Western Open in Red Bluff, California.
Shippy said her daughter picked up guitar several years ago, and took to that instrument as well.
“She really just had the ear for it because of playing [fiddle] so long,” the mother said.
Makaela has beefed up her guitar skills under teacher Matthew Hartz of Boise.
Shippy said musical aptitude and performance is in her daughter’s blood. Makaela’s great-grandfather, Tommy Rayne, Shippy’s grandpa, played bass for the Stringbusters. The group was a popular area band which Shippy said played a live TV broadcast every Saturday night on Channel 2 in the late 1950s. The band also had its own venues, Stringbusters’ Lounge and Cafe in Caldwell, and the Stringbusters’ Corral in Fruitland. Shippy said the Stringbusters also held dances in fruit sheds around Payette and Fruitland.
Makaela said she has always found it easy to perform in front of audiences, as long as they aren’t too small. She’s more prone to anxiety if she’d playing for only one or two people.
She doesn’t think she’ll be at all nervous playing at the U.S. Capitol in several weeks.
Makaela said another member of the quartet, Nicolayeff, her fiddle teacher, performed when she was 5 at the January 1988 inauguration of President George H.W. Bush.
“All she remembers is walking before the president and first lady,” Makaela said.
The Idaho musicians plan to visit or tour several historical sites during their four or five days in Washington, D.C., Makaela said, although they aren’t sure that’ll include the White House, where tours normally need to be booked well in advance.
Makaela said music has been a transformative influence in her life, helping her to develop “better people skills” and leading her to forge meaningful and lasting connections to others.
“I’ve met some of the most important people in my life through fiddling. That’s the biggest thing I take away from it,” she said.
And as she teaches theory and skills to musicians even younger than she is, she also looks for that social dimension to spark more brightly in them.
“I see a lot of my students wanting to let themselves out there more and play [music] with other kids,” as opposed to “just practicing by themselves,” Makaela said.
The young teacher added: “That’s more important than how they place in a contest.”
Kelli Shippy said tax-deductible donations for Makaela’s Washington, D.C., trip can be made payable to C/O Washington D.C. Funds, Idaho Open Fiddle Contest (IOFC), 516 S. Hawthorne, Nampa, Idaho 83686. For more information, phone (208) 230-3113.