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Ryan & Brennish Thomson

Updated Feb 2, 2024

Ryan and Brennish Thomson’s musical biography

Winners of the

2023 New Hampshire Governor’s Arts Award for Folk Heritage

Brennish Thomson started playing fiddle at age 2 in 1998. He has since mastered guitar, mandolin, banjo, and hand held percussion instruments including bones and wooden spoons. Besides learning his dad’s repertoire, he has studied with world class players in styles including Celtic, French Canadian, American old time, and Jazz. 

He has performed and recorded with numerous ensembles, including on an album with the Croga band, which included members from Maine, New Hampshire, and New Zealand. He has taught traditional music at numerous educational venues, including Folk College, Greenwood Furnace Folk Gathering, Fiddle Hell, New York Pinewoods, New England Folk Festival, TradMad, Sweetsmill Arts Institute, and Lark Camp.

Brennish works part time as a design engineer for Your Heaven Audio, a company which creates cutting edge equipment for amplifying the sound of acoustic instruments. He is an experienced support tech for online classes and concerts and has been hired by organizations such as Fiddle Hell, Midwest Banjo Camp, Old Songs Festival, Ashokan, and others.

Ryan Thomson is a music and dance professional who has been honored by inclusion on both the Traditional and Touring Artist rosters of the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts. He is a past winner of the Blaine Stubblefield Northeastern USA Regional award at the National Fiddle Contest in Weiser, Idaho 

He is a multi-instrumentalist who plays fiddle, banjo, wooden flute, piano, accordion, bones, pennywhistle, ukulele, and other instruments. He calls contra and squares and teaches cajun dancing. You can watch and listen to his performances on these instruments on his You Tube channel.  In his spare time he enjoys playing chamber music in an informal classical ensemble. 

He is available to contribute his musical talent to charitable organizations. As an eligible NEST grant artist his performances for non-profit organizations can be funded up to 50% through NEFA (New England Foundation for the Arts). He studied science at San Diego State University, then attended the University of New Hampshire where he taught a credit course in the Psychology of Music while a graduate student. 

He acquired the nick name "Captain Fiddle," from his co-workers on college radio WUNH, a  fiddling and folk music show which he hosted for several years. He continued on radio with a regular Sunday night show on National Public Radio WEVO. 

In the early 1980's he passed an audition to play in an award winning Nashville based country band and toured the USA from Mississippi to Arizona. He twice received the nomination for "Country Fiddler of the Year," from the Massachusetts Country Music Association. 

In 1994 he won a Boston Music Awards nomination for Best Ethnic/International Act for his accordion playing while leading the Crawdad Wranglers cajun and zydeco band which has been playing for cajun dancers in New England for over 30 years. Ryan was invited in 2000 as a special guest artist to perform at the Celebrate New Hampshire Festival sponsored by the Smithsonian. 

In 2003 he was hired to tutor fiddle at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in Washington. After years of searching libraries from coast to coast he had discovered that no general book about folk fiddling existed. He decided to fill that niche and in 1985 founded Captain Fiddle Publications by authoring his first book, The Fiddler's Almanac, a general reference source about fiddlers and fiddling which can be presently found in over 3000 libraries in the United States and Canada. 

He has since authored numerous fiddling and fiddle books, recordings, and instructional DVD videos on various musical topics. Ryan's works have received top reviews from the American Library Association and many other music publications. His solo clawhammer banjo CD, Great Bay Stomp, has received excellent reviews, for example. Ryan is a past editor for Celtic Beat Magazine. 

In 1990 Ryan developed focal dystonia,  a genetic disease which temporarily prevented him from playing his violin. He overcame his disability by devising a musician's cure for focal dystonia. He converted his fiddle to left handed, relearned to play violin, and earned his first trophy playing violin left handed at the Southern Vermont Scottish Highland Games. His experiences have made him an excellent fiddle teacher and workshop leader and he has been invited to speak at disability forums including VSA and the Dystonia Research Association. 

His research into handedness has resulted in the publication of a documentary work on the history and practice of musicians who play violin left handed - "Playing Violin and Fiddle Left Handed." He has also authored several instructional videos for left handed musicians including - Left Handed Fiddling for Beginners. and Left handed banjo playing. In 2019 one of Ryan's claw hammer banjo recordings was  included in the documentary - Big Family: The Story of Bluegrass Music, produced by Kentucky educational television, and aired on PBS in 2019.

For the past 15 years Ryan has been actively performing with his son Brennish as the Fiddling Thomsons. They won a Twin Fiddling award at Lowell National Historic Park in 2010 and made their first CD album when Brennish was 14. They have performed widely in far flung places such as England, California, and China. Their second CD is titled “Wild Boys of Newmarket.”

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