MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, August 26th. We’re glad you’ve joined us today for The World and Everything in It. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next, fiddling out of gratitude.
Aynsley Porchak knew since the time she could first talk what she wanted to be. But an unexpected twist along the way forced her to almost give that up.
WORLD’s Sarah Schweinsberg us brings her story.
SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: The bluegrass band, Carolina Blue, closes out a number to a small gathering. Because of COVID-19, most fans watch from Facebook.
BAND: Well, listen guys, I can’t say how much we appreciate you guys being here..
But the small numbers don’t stop the band from jamming out.
AUDIO: [SOUND CAROLINA BLUE]
Alongside the banjo, the guitar and the bass-cello, is Aynsley Porchak. She’s the band’s award-winning fiddler. Her fingers fly up and down the neck of her instrument.
AUDIO: [FIDDLE SOLO]
Porchak wears her signature vintage clothes—a blue and white flowered dress, with a 40s-style white hat. Her white heels tap to the beat.
The fiddle has been Aynsley’s happy place for nearly as long as she can remember.
As a toddler, she struggled to sleep, so her mom took her on drives.
PORCHAK: And one day we were driving out between cow pastures and my mom was flipping around the radio dial and I said stop mommy right there. And so she stopped and it was a country music station. So we listened, I fell asleep. About a week later, same thing happened. So they found out it was country music that I really like. In time they found out I liked the fiddle.
Aynsley Porchak didn’t just like the fiddle. She loved it. When she started to play at age 9, it became her driving passion.
PORCHAK: I was practicing for a long time. About 4-5 hours a day.
Back at her home near Etowah, North Carolina, Porchak sits down on a piano bench. She tucks her fiddle between her chin and shoulder and with her right hand, she twists the little black tuning pegs at the base of the strings.
PORCHAK: This is how we tune it for small mistakes.
AUDIO: [SOUND OF TUNING]
PORCHAK: We have our E string, A string, D string, and G string. And you can see there’s a lot of white rosin dust on here, the rosin helps your bow grip the strings a little bit better. That just shows that I’m really going at it when I’m playing.
Porchak’s always really gotten after it. In high school, she kept entering more competitions. She wanted to be a professional musician.
PORCHAK: That was my goal. That was the one thing I wanted to achieve.
But then, something started going wrong with her hands. They ached. Turns out she worked so hard she tore a tendon in her pinky finger.
PORCHAK: I felt like there was a rubber band that somebody had just taken a pair of scissors to and just snap. It was terrible.
The pinky is pretty essential for playing the fiddle. So Porchak couldn’t practice or perform for months and she didn’t know if she’d ever play again.
PORCHAK: The first thing I did was turn to the Lord and I was like Lord, if you want me to play fiddle again you’re going to have to heal me. Because I don’t know how, I don’t know what else to do with my life. I thought this is what I was supposed to do? There was a lot of sadness. And a lot of questioning.
In the mean-time, she turned to prayer and Bible-reading. She wanted to become okay with whatever God had in store for her—even if that wasn’t the fiddle.
PORCHAK: I did eventually come to a point of peace where I realized that if that door closed, God was going to open a window.
After six long months, her finger did heal. Of course, she got right back to it.
AUDIO: [SOUND OF AYNSLEY PLAYING A HYMN]
PORCHAK: It felt so good to be back to be playing again. It was so wonderful. I think I cried. I probably cried. (laughs)
After high school, Porchak left her native Canada and headed to Tennessee to study bluegrass—her favorite style of music.
PORCHAK: So when you are a bluegrass fiddler, you use a lot of double stops, that’s when you play more than one note at the same time. We use triplets. It’s very, very fast.
Porchak kept practicing and getting better. In 2015, she won the U.S. Grandmasters Fiddler Championship… and two years later, the Canadaian championship, making her the first person to ever win both.
PORCHAK: I still have to pinch myself sometimes to believe it actually happened.
Now, Porchak says it can be difficult not to plateau. That’s where Carolina Blue comes in. Her skilled bandmates bring out the best in her.
AUDIO: [SOUND OF BAND]
PORCHAK: Carolina Blue is filled with so many talented instrumentalists that if you aren’t on your game you are going to stick out like a sore thumb.
Speaking of sore thumbs, Porchak doesn’t want to have a sore pinky again. Ten years after her torn tendon, she still wears a brace just in case.
PORCHAK: It’s small. Looks like two rings joined together and what it does is it stops me from hyperextending my little finger joint… I never take it off.
Porchack says her injury actually comes in handy now. It taught her to practice in her head. With a busy life, that’s become a key skill.
PORCHAK: While I don’t practice 4-5 hours a day anymore. I do most of my practicing through mental visualization, really listening to songs, so I actually do more mental work now as a result of that.
Porchak has learned God’s in the business of doing that—weaving together what look like loose ends—and she’s grateful.
AUDIO: [SOUND OF PORCHAK PLAYING]
PORCHAK: I definitely do feel that it is a kind of worship because it is to me the best way really of showing the Lord how thankful I am for what he gave me. So, be patient. Be steadfast and God has a plan for you.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg in Etowah, North Carolina.
NICK EICHER: I want you to know that Sarah also prepared a video version of this story for our WORLD Watch—our daily video news for young students.
So if you’re a subscriber, look for it on Friday’s WORLD Watch.
If you’ve not subscribed yet, we still want you to be able to see Sarah’s report. So we’re going to make the Friday 10-minute WORLD Watch available for free on the WORLD Watch YouTube channel and you can see it there.
It’ll go live Friday morning and we’ll link to it all on worldandeverything.org.