For Lenny Solomon, the difference between a fiddle and a violin is all in the ears of the beholder.
"They're virtually the same instrument. What makes a violin a violin and a fiddle a fiddle is how you play it. It's all a matter of style," said Solomon, creator and musical director for Bowfire, a Canada-based string and step dance ensemble that's bringing its first holiday show to the Orpheum Saturday.
"There should be no snobbery in playing the violin," he said. "I have great respect for teaching the fiddle. The commitment is the same, only the style is different. There is mutual respect because both take 'real' musicians."
Created in 2000, Bowfire has a pool of about 30 of the world's top violinists, fiddlers and step dancers to draw from for its one-of-a-kind shows — think Riverdance with dancers playing fiddles at the same time. It took Broadway by storm in 2001 and has since been all around the world.
Each show features a dozen of the talents, coming from as far away as Shanghai, Serbia and Mexico.
Bowfire presents a stage show, he said, not merely a concert. Director Stafford Arima, who was honored in London for "Ragtime" and in New York for "Altar Boyz," has put together a fast-paced musical journey that takes audiences from jazz to classical to bluegrass to rock, with flourishes of Celtic, Gypsy and Canada's own Ottawa Valley and Cape Breton styles.
"Our typical audience is the theater crowd," Solomon said. "But we also get a lot of kids, which is good, because it gives us a chance to show them how much fun they can have with seemingly stodgy instruments. Part of our goal is to inspire the next generation of musicians."
For this holiday show, the troupe is adding new takes on traditional fare like "Sleigh Ride," "Twelve Days of Christmas," "Silent Night" and "Rockin' Round the Christmas Tree."
"This is our very first holiday show in the 10 years we've been together," Solomon said. "It just seemed like it was time."
Solomon, who has been called "Canada's best jazz violinist," grew up in a musical family with a father who was principal violinist of the Toronto Symphony and a sister who was a composer for films and TV. He started piano at 6 and violin at 8, experimented with jazz violin and broke out as a teen star in the 1970s as half of the pop duo Myles and Lenny.
"It was quite a head-turner to be a rock star," he said. "It was a wonderful part of my life. But with my classical and jazz training, it gave me a chance to try something new."
That something evolved into the pop string quintet Quintessence, and then into The Galaxy Trio for jazz riffs on classical violin. As the millennium turned, Solomon sought to expand his ideas and came up with Bowfire.
"Interest in the violin comes and goes, but there's been a resurgence of jazz violin in the past 10 years. There is new interest in alternate styles. It's really exciting to be part of that."
If you go
What: First holiday show by Bowfire, a Canada-based string and step dance ensemble
Where: Orpheum Theatre, First and Broadway
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
How much: Tickets: $43, $36, $28 and $18; available at Select-A-Seat at www.selectaseat.com or 316-755-7328.