Mid-career change was key for the owner of The Chatham Fiddle Company.

Photograph by Dan Cutrona

Photograph by Dan Cutrona

While not everyone can turn a passion into a life’s work, Rose Clancy has turned her love of violins and Irish music into a thriving business in downtown Chatham. “My life would be completely different without music,” Clancy says.

Before launching the Chatham Fiddle Company in 2011, Clancy had a successful career at her family’s moving company in New York City. But, she says, “in the back of my head, I always wanted to make violins.”

At the age of 40, Clancy enrolled in the North Bennet Street School in Boston, which offers training in traditional trades and fine craftsmanship, to learn to make violins. After three years of intensive schooling—an experience she called “life changing”—Clancy moved to Chatham, where her family has a summer home. She loved the area so much she bought a house of her own in 2003 and eight years later founded the Chatham Fiddle Company. The quaint red-brick building on Main Street is equipped with studios for fiddle lessons, space for intimate in-house concerts, and a woodworking work shop. “When I graduated from violin-making school, this was an ideal place to start my business,” she says.

According to Clancy, “fiddle” is just a nickname for a violin that people who play Irish or Bluegrass music tend to use. These genres, among others such as Appalachian, are classified as fiddle music. She notes that the fiddle isn’t always played with sheet music. Instead, someone plays a tune and others learn it by ear. “In the Irish traditional world,” Clancy says, “learning by ear is huge.”

While there are subtle differences in violin styles, Clancy says the big differences are in price and quality. “You can buy a nice student violin for around $500. It goes up from there!” The cream of the crop, a Stradivarius, can sell for $15 million.

Growing up in New York, Clancy was surrounded by music. She learned traditional Irish music from her father, Eugene Clancy, who had come to the United States from Armagh in Northern Ireland with his two brothers in the early 1960s to tour their band, the Irish Ramblers. After touring, Eugene Clancy decided to stay. “[In Northern Ireland] there had been trouble, and I guess I thought I should transfer to a better life in the U.S.,” he says. “And I’m so glad that I did.”

Rose Clancy attended Increase Miller Elementary School, where she took classical music lessons. She began playing violin in the third grade under the tutelage of her music teacher, the late Paul Ehrlich. “He made learning how to play a difficult instrument fun,” she recalls. “I value that classical music training taught me how to properly hold a bow and gave me a strong foundation [for the fiddle].”

Clancy’s father says he was shocked when Rose decided to leave the family business, but when he learned she had been accepted at the North Bennet Street School, he was thrilled. “I know she is delighted with her decision,” he says.