In Valerie’s family, music is a tradition. Her great grandfather played a homemade fiddle to the pleasure of all and his children inherited the passion and carried it on. Her grandfather, O.G. taught her how to play the fiddle himself, patiently reviewing every note as they sat in their kitchen when she was young. O.G.’s brother Darris made fiddles and in his free time was a mandolin player. Her other grandfather, Bishop, hosted barn dances that he enjoyed calling and the fiddling music set the night to music attracting all the youth of the area to dance and laugh and play. It was rare that Valerie was not surrounded by music, often waking her in the night in a joyous way that left an indelible impact and encouraged her own love by the age of three. She learned to play along with her siblings on her mother’s fiddle that they found hidden under her bed.
By the age of thirteen, Valerie had won the Junior World Championship after formally studying in violin and Texas style fiddling for only four years. Most of the Texas style tunes have no written music and to learn it, one must concentrate carefully on listening and paying attention to others that are playing. With her musical family, Valerie was fortunate to have many opportunities to engage with others that were playing and they were always taking her with them to competitions and contests often to engage her and support her in her pursuit. There were sometimes occasions where they would drive four hours to take her somewhere just so she could see a certain piece of music being played. Valerie attended her first contest in Alvarado, Texas where Johnny Gimble and Norman Solomon performed. She heard Eck Robertson in Fort Worth where he used toothpicks as a bow while he played.
Valerie works to teach the tradition to others through individual tutelage, lectures, television appearances and through her own performances and recordings. She is committed to closing the gap between learning solely through audio focus by transposing songs onto sheet music as well as through her audio recordings. She wants to ensure that Texas style fiddling will be able to sustain for many, many years to come.
O’Brien has a studio in Burleson, Texas where she teaches with Mary Lamb and they do what they can to promote and sustain the tradition of Texas Old-Time Fiddling. Her daughters Julie and Jennifer also teach at the studio as well as her sister, Lydia and her husband Rich. As has always been, fiddling is still a family affair for O’Brien. The studio also offers instruction in guitar, piano, banjo, mandolin and bass and students come from all over Texas to attend. One of her students even includes her seventy plus year old great-uncle Harris.
Valerie’s family is the epitome of the Texas old-time fiddling traditional, cultivating the art through many generations, attending contests, celebrating together with jam session and virtually making it a significant part of family life. With her students beginning at a young age and extending well into their elder years, she is an integral part of the fabric of the genre and it’s very rich history.