BAINBRIDGE ISLAND — The Strompettes kicked off their world tour recently at a decidedly down-home location: the Seabold Community Hall.
Comprising two married couples, the band was the featured music act at Seabold Second Saturday — a monthly Bainbridge Island tradition established 25 years ago that gives local artists a platform to perform.
Tania Opland and her husband Mike Freeman, who live in Suquamish, are no strangers as the featured performers. In fact, Opland was the first musician booked at Seabold Second Saturday. She and Freeman have since appeared together multiple times over the past couple decades.
They typically perform apart from the duo of Felicia Dale and William Pint, but the two married couples came together to form the Strompettes. Freeman said it not only brought him closer to his wife, but it’s the reason they’re still together.
“[Opland] had no intention of stopping touring, so we had to get married and I had to hit the road if I ever wanted to see her again,” he said. “That doesn’t actually make us unique, but it does make us rare in that we’ve been doing this for 25 years, together 24/7, and we still speak to one another — mostly.”
Dale said she hasn’t looked back after being encouraged by Pint and Opland to focus on being a musician.
“I’m really lucky to be here,” she said. “I was teaching motorcycle safety when I met [Pint], and this is so much easier. If you make a mistake, nobody dies. Plus, getting to play with another hurdy-gurdyist is a dream come true.”
Along with Opland, Dale plays the hand-cranked, stringed instrument known
as a hurdy-gurdy. It has a typical starting price of about $4,000, according to a hurdy-gurdy website, and it’s not as popular in America as it is in Europe. The “buzzy string” on the instrument is called a trompette, and it’s the origination for the band’s name.
“It’s the most fun, most annoying, most compelling and most complex part of the instrument,” Opland wrote on her website. “We like it a lot!”
Other strings on the instrument are called “drones.” Not coincidentally, that is the nickname Opland and Dale gave to their husbands. The “Drones” were called up to the stage after the hurdy-gurdyists played a few songs together. And the crowd heard more than just music — something which Freeman said is typical of the Strompettes’ performances.
“With any luck, they’ll get an armchair trip around the world — stories, songs and tunes from around the globe on a heap of interesting instruments,” he said. “On a good night, we might even manage a laugh or two.”
They received more than just a couple laughs during their opening world tour performance. Hurdy-gurdies require time for tuning in between songs, leaving the group plenty of space to interact with those in attendance. The Strompettes also got some smiles and laughter while covering The Game of Thrones theme music.
Freeman said it’s the amount of time he and his bandmates put into their passion that is the most difficult and unnoticed aspect of his job.
“Most people think you just show up, play for a bit and go home to watch TV,” he said. “They don’t see the years of practice, hours of gig hunting by phone, email, blackmail, instrument maintenance and repair, or the time spent just getting to the gig. What goes on behind the scenes to put us in front of an audience is pretty daunting, and that’s where the real hard graft is.”
Although the Strompettes don’t perform for money, Dale said they don’t do anything else for money, either. With a profound amount of time devoted to music, she added that it’s nice to get paid for a passion through charitable donations, although she would otherwise continue with it even if she wasn’t compensated for it.
Live music “messes” with people, she said, adding that it’s “subversive.” That’s why she encourages everyone to support it.
“I bet you (that) almost anyone can say a poem or sing a song — and that’s something that is falling out of favor,” she said. “People don’t know how to do that. They know how to do karaoke, but it’s not the same thing as standing up there naked and just doing it. It’s really powerful. You get to find out how strong you are.”