Meet local fiddler CJ Neary

Meet local fiddler CJ Neary

High performance. We know it when we see (and hear) it—alchemy of expertise, innovation, dogged determination, and magic—and a benchmark of BendBroadband’s practice and philosophy. In our quest to explore just what high performance looks and sounds like in our own backyard, BendBroadband is shining the spotlight on some local high performers in our new ads.

Meet 12-year-old CJ Neary—violin/fiddle virtuoso, composer, and, as it turns out, “The Matrix” aficionado. Maybe you’ve heard CJ, share the stage with big-name artists at a local jazz concert. Or perhaps you’ve caught a YouTube video of him slaying it at the Texas State Championship Fiddle Contest at age 7, or delivering a talk at TEDx Bend. Or maybe our commercial is your introduction to CJ’s amazing talent and dedication. We got to know him a bit better during filming at Bend’s Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

Born With Music in Him
CJ’s mom, Tammy Roark, confirms that the music was there right at the beginning. As a baby, CJ would kick his feet to the rhythm of whatever was playing, and scream when the radio was turned off. While some thought his reaction to the music was mere coincidence, Tammy knew otherwise. Sure enough, CJ was soon making instruments for himself, teaching himself how to create the sounds he was hearing. The next step was Suzuki, the famed method of teaching violin to young people.

Once CJ found out it was possible to play competitively, he started working with a teacher in town. (CJ and his family moved to Bend from California when he was 7). In no time, it seems, the young musician was tearing it up at contests in Weiser, Idaho and the Texas State Championships. Lately, though, he’s been keeping it more local.

Making the Local Jam
This past February was a high-performance month for CJ. He joined the amazing Regina Carter onstage at The Riverhouse, and sat in with Paul Creighton and Jarrod Lawson at Jazz at the Oxford for a tribute to Stevie Wonder. While to the casual audience member the music may seem to emanate effortlessly from the young fiddler, the magic created onstage is many hours of hard work in the making.

CJ plays every day for a couple of hours per session. There’s no special routine, per se, but lately he’s been working on an album, recording on his personal software. He practices on multiple instruments in addition to violin, studies jazz theory, plays his scales, and is expanding his songwriting technique. In fact, CJ scored a scholarship for an upcoming songwriting camp in Salem. Hip-hop is currently holding his attention, and he spends a good portion of his practice time creating beats. “You’ve got to be listening to the kind of music you want to come up with,” he says.

Lunch Talk
Relaxing with a chicken Caesar salad on a break from shooting the BendBroadband commercial, CJ comes across as a smart and serious young dude with broad interests and a smooth sense of personal style. He’s fashion forward in button-down shirt, vest, and dove grey lace-ups, and his haircut’s an etched buzz with a shock of blond on top. When not performing or practicing, CJ attends sixth grade at REALMS. His favorite thing about school? “I like math. Lynda [Beauchamp] is an awesome math teacher.” And the legendary REALMS outings? “Oh, yeah…the seventh and eighth grades are always going somewhere…you get to go on cool field trips.”

Travel is definitely on the agenda for CJ, who would like someday to have a band, travel, and tour. “Maybe 10 pieces,” he says. “Bass, keyboard, guitar, DJ…and horns.” He plays with other musicians when the opportunity presents itself. Check out CJ stretching his vocal chords with a rendition of Honeysuckle Rose.

Taking Cues From the Legends & the Innovators
When asked about his influences, CJ points to Herbie Hancock, Tony Bennett (he’s read both their memoirs), Charlie Parker (“One of the best,” he says), Vassar Clements (“Not many people know about him—awesome improviser”), and Lindsey Stirling, another accomplished violinist and multi-genre performer with an eponymous channel on YouTube.

Lunch is over, and it’s time to get back to the work that goes into creating a memorable performance. Twirling his bow in the air, letting his violin hang from his chin, or plucking at the strings in between takes, CJ remains a seasoned professional throughout, willing to go again and again to get it right.

Written by Irene Cooper

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