Into the Circle

The Courage to Play

By Tessa Dalton

Photos courtesy of Tessa Dalton

At first, I stood back quietly watching. Around the campfire were a dozen strangers, some old, some young. There were hippies and cowboys, a new mother and a tattooed grandpa. They played guitars and banjos, mandolins and fiddles. There was even a washtub bass. I was twelve years old, and felt completely out of place.

The eclectic group jammed on until, finally, my teacher, Shelby Murdock, turned and said, “You know this one, Tessa!” Nervously, I stepped into the circle.

I felt out of breath. My eyes blurred. My arms seemed so heavy. But then I started playing. The others cheered me on, and my fingers found their notes. When the group moved to a new song, I again didn’t know it, but I stayed in the circle and played on, watching their fingers and following their cues.

I was jamming, and learning something new with each round. Three hours later, my fingers were sore, but I wasn’t tired—and I was sad when we had to quit.

Never before in my life had I completely lost track of time while doing something I loved.

I went back to my tent, in an encampment called “Stickerville” at the National Old Time Fiddle Contest in Weiser. I was nervous about the next day’s competition, but I drifted asleep listening to other campers in the distance as they played old-time fiddle tunes into the night.

My musical journey had begun a few years before this. As a nine-year-old, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I took orchestra at American Heritage Charter School just west of Idaho Falls.

I remember the moment in the basement of the historic New Sweden School building when I first dragged a bow across the strings. It was just a note, but it changed my life.

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Tessa Dalton

About Tessa Dalton

Tessa Dalton is the middle of five children from Idaho Falls and is currently studying commercial music at Belmont University in Nashville. Many of her songs, including “My Home’s in Idaho,” are available on all major streaming platforms, with more to come. Or visit:

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