The family that plays together ...

The Pendleton Family Fiddlers are sisters Marina and Emma Jane with their parents, Scott and Virginia Pendleton. JEREMY CHARLES/ for the Tulsa World



Sometimes the best things in life aren't planned, especially when it comes to family.

It had been a long time since Virginia Pendleton picked up a fiddle. Grade school, in fact. In the sixth grade, she was first chair violin in Tulsa's all-city orchestra.

Years later, when Virginia decided to get her toddlers Marina and Emma Jane involved in the arts, she chose the violin for them, too.

As a family, "I thought, 'This would be a fun thing to do.' "

The kids started learning classic violin, that, when played correctly, becomes a fiddle. Their first instruments were "box fiddles" made of cardboard when they turned 2.

The girls quickly drew attention. Fiddle icon Jana Jae first saw Marina and Emma Jane perform when the girls were in grade school.

"She said, 'Get your girls on stage.' I picked up a guitar and started learning how to back them," said their father, Scott Pendleton.

Mom picked up her fiddle - and often a mandolin - and played, too.

Soon enough, the family dynamic was turned upside down, said dad Scott.

"The girls were telling us what songs they'll be playing, and when," he said, then laughed. "They're in control."

The sisters agreed. "It's nice sometimes to tell Dad and Mom what to do," Emma Jane said.

Emma Jane is 18; sister Marina will be 17 in August. Both are seniors in high school - Emma Jane is home-schooled; Marina attends Cascia Hall. Both have started fast-tracking college electives and essentials, and both are interested in mechanical engineering majors.

And music. There's always music.

They've played together as a family for eight years at the Spotlight Theater, nestled on Riverside Drive near downtown. Every month, like clockwork, they're part of "The Olio" showcase.

The girls may control their music, but it doesn't always extend to their personal lives. They don't date. Emma Jane just got her ears pierced - she had to wait until she turned 18. Not that either seem to mind, really.

They've got bigger things to take care of. There are the fiddling contests. And the SATs for college. Emma Jane now teaches fiddle, too.

The family also recently wrote a new song, "Wild Rivers Flow," and debuted it to a sold-out crowd before releasing the song on iTunes. Next, they hope to film a video - then an album.

Oh, and Emma Jane and Marina smile when they talk about their growing fan base. They've performed for a growing roster of country icons, including Lyle Lovett, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill and Toby Keith.

The girls' Americana-infused flavor of Western and old time fiddle playing - and yodeling - has earned them shelves full of awards. The pair won first place for twin fiddle in the Grand Lake National Fiddle Fest this year. The family also took first place as a band. Last year, Emma Jane took first place at the Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival Fiddle Championship.

"We have to go to contests," Emma Jane said.

"Actually, we go to a lot more contests now than when we were younger," Marina said. They haven't forgotten their classic violin roots, either. "At one competition, we were in a back room jamming with friends, and next thing you know there's a room full of classical music while everyone else was up front playing fiddle. It's really nice to see classical violin training in the fiddle world. So many kids play it."

Mom and Dad both admit they're preparing for the days when their girls leave the nest. But much like the unexpected music career, they're looking to Marina and Emma Jane for direction regarding the girls' future.

"Oh, we'll probably always play together as a family," Marina said.

Sister Emma Jane agreed. She's looking forward to a time when, perhaps, this unexpected ride comes full circle and they're all at home jamming like they always have.

"We'll always be playing in our living room," said Emma Jane. "I love playing with my family. I always will love it."


Jennifer Chancellor 918-581-8346