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Katrina Nicolayeff was just 3 years old when she first played fiddle for the president of the United States.

Now, the Meridian musician has not only played for two other presidents — not counting an upcoming performance before President Barack Obama — but she has won three grand national championships and three world championships.

In September, Nicolayeff will compete for her fourth world title at the Grand Ole Opry’s Grand Master Fiddler Championship in Nashville.

The 33-year-old can’t remember a time in her life when she wasn’t playing the fiddle.

“When I was really young, I played all the time — just every day, all day. I loved it,” she said.

These days, as the mother of a 3- and 7-year-old, Nicolayeff finds her practice times getting later and later.

“Most of my practicing is done at 11 o’clock or midnight because my kids are in bed and it’s finally quiet,” she laughed.

Nicolayeff’s mother, Bobbie Pearce, founded the Idaho Junior Jammer Fiddlers in Nampa in the 1980s and hosted music lessons in the house all throughout Katrina’s childhood.

This might sound strange, Pearce admits, but Katrina would bounce around in the womb when Pearce played the piano — something she didn’t experience with her other two pregnancies.

“At 16 months old, she grabbed my fiddle and put my first nick in it,” Pearce said.

Snubbing the toy fiddle purchased to appease her, Nicolayeff quickly got her own fiddle — or “doodle,” as she called it. The left-handed toddler rapidly learned songs, competing in her first fiddle contest at age 2-and-a-half and playing before President Ronald Reagan with the Junior Jammers at age 3.

The champion fiddler now teaches high school students with the Jammers. Many students drop fiddle when they reach high school, Pearce said, but Katrina brings in intricate styles of music and keeps students engaged.

“They love her,” Pearce said. “That’s the thing that makes me so proud of her, is she’s not stuck up, she’s just genuinely a nice, caring, loving individual.”

Along with performing and teaching, Nicolayeff has ventured into recording. This year she released her debut album, “13 Stages,” in collaboration with guitarist Matthew Hartz and mandolin player Andrew Jeffries.

“The best part for me is playing music with my close musician friends,” she said. “It’s my favorite pastime — just to play music and enjoy the musicians and learn from them and grow as a musician.”

In December, Nicolayeff and a few others from the Junior Jammers will perform at the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree lighting ceremony, featuring a tree from Idaho’s Payette National Forest.

WEISER’S NATIONAL CONTEST

Each year in the third week of June, the small town of Weiser, Idaho, draws in thousands of spectators for the week-long National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest and Festival.

The national contest is even more competitive than the world championships in Nashville, Nicolayeff said, and always makes for a good time. After the competitions are done for the day, musicians get together informally to play at campsites for dancing crowds.

“It goes all night long, sometimes until the sun comes up,” Nicolayeff said. “It’s pretty awesome.”

Nicolayeff has won the national grand championship three times, including this summer.

But the most exciting — and terrifying — thing she’s ever done as a fiddler is playing at the Grand Ole Opry, she said. She’s won three of the four times she’s competed in the world championships there and even got to play with Riders in the Sky, performers of “Woody’s Round Up” in “Toy Story 2.”

In September, Nicolayeff will have the chance to earn a fourth world championship title at the Opry. She likely won’t be sizing up her competition beforehand.

“I never listen to my competition — it freaks me out, because they always sound better than me,” she said. “You get used to your own playing and what you can do, and then you hear somebody else, like, wow, that’s so cool.”

Clearly — given her national and world success — Nicolayeff’s music is pretty cool, too.

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