Recycled: Beloved Irwin Park tree removed, gift tree planted in its place

Fiddler Kate Nelson of Flossmoor recreates her
winning performance during an interview at Forever 
Yogurt in Homewood on Saturday. Nelson won 
the 2016 Jewel-Osco/Chicago Bulls Kids Talent 
Search on April 2.

(Photos by Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

Kate Nelson has a violin she won’t take to school. The family heirloom is too precious. 

But she took it to the United Center on April 2, and with it she won the 2016 Jewel Osco/Chicago Bulls Kids Talent Search

Nelson won the monthly contest in March, earning the opportunity to compete in the April 2 final round at half time of the Bulls game against the Detroit Pistons. 

  Kate Nelson plays a fiddle 
  she inherited from her 
  late aunt.

The 13-year-old from Flossmoor stood in the middle of the floor in front of more than 22,000 Bulls fans and played her own arrangement of two traditional Irish tunes, “Irish Washerwoman” and “Drowsy Maggie.” She spiced the old tunes up by increasing the tempo until her fingers were sprinting along the fingerboard by the end.

Performances in the talent search are judged by the audience, and the results are determined by the measured volume of the applause. She couldn’t hear the roar of the crowd, though, because she wore earbuds wired to the sound system that allowed her to focus on her music by blocking out the sounds of the crowd.

She learned about her win when the announcer revealed the results.

“It was really cool,” she said. 

She confessed that her knees were shaking before she started to play. It might have been her largest crowd, but Nelson is not a novice at performing before audiences large and small. She has been playing violin for six years.

In recent years, she has performed in concerts with H-F Suzuki Strings, with a quartet of her peers and as a soloist for weddings and parties. 

She has raised money and supplies for local charities, including Respond Now and The Jones Center, and is raising money with her music to help Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe, a Ugandan nun whose mission is to help children learn life skills. 

Kate has also performed four times in special masses at the Kansas City Cathedral.
She and her brother, Liam, fell in love with the instrument when they attended a music program at Flossmoor Public Library, according to her mother, Michelle Nelson. 

“They came home and begged their dad to let them have violin lessons,” Michelle said. “It was the most expensive ‘yes’ he’s ever said.”

But her parents are very proud of her achievements generally and of her recent success in the talent contest.

“I was impressed with her poise,” Michelle said. “She is a serious student. To see her succeed after so much hard work is rewarding.”

Kate said she puts in the necessary work because she enjoys it.

“I just really like playing the violin. It’s fun to play,” she said. “I like the varieties of music I get to play. I like a lot of challenges, and it’s challenging.”

Kate learned about the opportunity to participate in the talent search through a notice from the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, a group she belongs to. She submitted an audition video and was accepted.

She credits two teachers with helping her prepare for the talent search performances. 

After contest organizers asked her to select a different tune, teacher Suzanne Rickman with Homewood-Flossmoor Suzuki Strings suggested “Drowsy Maggie.” And Homewood-Flossmoor High School teacher Jon Elfner set up his sound system and gave her a chance to practice in the H-F field house to get a sense for playing in a large space.

The violin she played at the Bulls game came to her following the death of her great aunt last fall. Her cousins presented her aunt’s violin to her. 

“They told her to make it sing again,” Michelle said. “When they gave it to her, I was wondering if they had envisioned her getting to play it in a cathedral to a full house much less the United Center. I think she did made it sing.”

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