Thursday, December 4, 2008

Camped out at the mailbox

I have ordered and eagerly await arrival of the new album by Bryan Gear with Violet Tulloch. Kebister Head was released on Dec. 3.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Island culture

Janet came across an academic journal online which features essays on island cultures, Shima: The International Journal of Research into Island Cultures. The journal originates in Australia, but a couple of articles deal with Shetland topics. Of most interest, in Vol.1, No. 2, Reinventing Springs, a discourse on Shetland fiddle styles and outside influences. Debbie Scott, Catriona MacDonald and Chris Stout are discussed. Vol. 2, No. 2 has an article on Fetlar, which will be one of the sites planned for the 2009 'Frenzy.' Jane

The music plays on

Before last year's 'Frenzy' , music was sent to all registrants to prepare for the final concert. Among the pieces were two - 'Fiddle' and 'Eileen's Waltz' - by Debbie Scott. Unfortunately Debbie did not attend the ' Frenzy', but I loved playing the pieces and became an instant fan. In Lerwick I bought Debbie's one and only album, 'Debbie Scott', a compilation released in 1999. This has become one of my favorites.

I also came home with a new album by Catriona MacDonald, 'Over the Moon.' I greatly admire her lush tone and phrasing, adding new insight to traditional tunes and infusing warmth to her own lovely compositions. Her beautiful rendition of an air by Tom Anderson on the album, 'Ian Robertson', displays Tom's great gift for melody as well as Catriona's great skills. [At a 'Frenzy' concert, Brian Gear played another unpublished Anderson air, 'Daybreak', further proof of Tom's gift. This tune is due to be published in the coming months, in Vol. 3 of his collected works.] Catriona's own lovely air, 'Wonderland', is on the new album.

When I bought Catriona's album , 'Bold' , a few years ago, she autographed it with the inscription, 'Keep Fiddling', which I have. In her new album she wrote, 'Come back soon' , which I intend. At this date it seems like August 2009 will involve family events in the USA for both Janet and myself. Maybe 'Celtic Colors' next fall, maybe back to Shetland in 2010. In the meantime, I keep it going via CD's with Catriona and Debbie, Willie Hunter, Chris Stout, Aly Bain, and Tom Anderson. Good company!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Digital Photography

I bought a new digital camera this year, smaller than a pack of cigarettes, but with amazing capacities. I came home with over 600 photos to sort through. It has taken a bit of time to edit and put them online, but I'm happy to say I have completed my task. My albums are now available for visitors to this site. The 'fiddle school' album contains photos by Richard Wemyss, of Shetland Arts, presented to each student at the conclusion of the 'Frenzy.' From his disc I selected a few and added two of my own (one of him with Catriona MacDonald, one of Annbjorg Lien with her gorgeous fiddle.) Enjoy. Jane

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Back in Beantown

Hard to believe I've been back over a week. In summary, the 'Frenzy' was wonderful. Highlights? Every day. Enjoyed classes with Brian Gear and Violet Tulloch. Also with Mark Laurenson, Annbjorg Lien and Catriona MacDonald. It was special to meet Catriona again: after I attended her workshop at Boston College several years ago, she became my inspiration to fiddle and to visit Shetland. I thoroughly enjoyed her playing/teaching again. The music itself remains exciting, challenging, groovy. I have renewed respect for Tom Anderson's melodic invention, revealed in Catriona' s lovely rendition of 'Ian Robertson' in her new album, 'Over the Moon.' I was also enchanted with an unpublished tune, 'Daybreak' , performed in concert by Brian and Violet (will be included in vol. 3 of Tom's tunebooks, due out this winter.) This year the student concert included 2 tunes from Debbie Scott, fiddler from Papa Stour. I enjoyed them so much I bought her album, ('Debbie Scott') which is quite wonderful, too -- terrific original compositions, great fiddling.

Currently, I'm editing my photos, plan to put up 2008 photo albums by the end of the month. In the meantime, enjoying polishing new fiddle tunes and listening to CD's. Jane

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Postcard - Last day

While it seemed like a plan to post while at the Frenzy, the actuality of getting to a computer in non-fiddling hours is almost impossible. We fiddle or listen to fiddling around the clock. Unfortunately Janet had to leave unexpectedly on Wednesday AM for a family emergency. Today I'm off to Eshaness in 30 min. for a visit to Tom Anderson's birthplace, gravesite. In summary, it's been great. I've learned a lot of wonderful tunes, including some Norwegian ones taught yesterday in Unst.
More blogging when I return. New photos up by end of month.
Tonight, ferry to Aberdeen. Tomorrow, flight to London. Tuesday, flight to Boston.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Day 1 - Boston 2-Step

The evening's festivities featured the Jim Halcrow Dance Band playing dance music for young and old at the Islesburgh Community Center. From bouncing toddlers to springy seniors, nearly everyone joined in, filling in with exuberance any gaps in expertise. We started (and ended) appropriately enough(!!) with the Boston 2-Step, all dances thankfully taught. In between were the Dashing White Sargeant, St. Bernard's Waltz, the Britannia 2-Step, Gay Gordons, Strip the Willow, the Eva 2-Step, the Circassian Circle, Pride of Erin Waltz, and the Canadian Barn Dance. Each dance was done with 2 or 3 rounds. Fueled and refreshed by Highland Spring Water, the assembly joyfully stepped and swung, back and forth, in and out, driven by the vibrant pulse of the band. A good time was had by all. At 10 PM, the last set of the Boston 2-Step finished with a flourish, quickly followed up by the packing up of people, kids, and fiddles to head out into the cool evening 's mist to the Grand Hotel for the evening's final fiddle session.

Postcard day 1

9 AM, Tourist centre open. Brief note, gotta go fiddle! Yesterday met/exceeded expectations - fiddle lessons with Brian Gear and Violet Tulloch, dance with Halcrow band-Janet and I doing Boston 2-step
and session in hotel bar. Before all that, a visit to a few shops including High Level Music - there, we chatted with Mandy, who we informed had given us title of this blog. All's well. Having fun. Jane

Monday, August 4, 2008

Frenzy day 1

We have arrived in Lerwick. Janet and I met at Heathrow, for our flight to Aberdeen yesterday.
We spent a pleasant few hours there, attending an outdoor music festival in various locales. The acts included a steel drum orchestra from Trinidad and Tobago, a steel drum ensemble (youth) from Aberdeen, a folk harpist/singer from Uganda, a drum corps, and a local jazz quartet. Luckily the weather was pleasant for being outdoors. We boarded our ferry for Lerwick around 4PM. On board we met a few familiar faces with fiddles - members of the Riddell fiddles who attended the Frenzy with us last year. We had a pleasant passage with a delicious evening meal on board. The rocking motion of the boat was so soothing, I fell asleep early, missing both a small session with the Riddells, and our entry into Kirkwall. However, we are now fully prepared for a week of non-stop action. Our first stop here (after dropping bags at the hotel) at the Visitor Centre. Once again good luck with the weather - mild, partly cloudy. On to fiddling. Jane

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Norse connection

After many years of plundering attacks on the Shetland Isles, Norse Vikings finally invaded during the 9th Century A.D., destroyed the Picts (the Peti) living there, and intermarried with the local Scots (the Scotti). In 880, King Harald of Norway established an earldom of Orkney which controlled Shetland, until control reverted directly back to Norway in the 12th century. By 1397, Norway had come under the control of Denmark. In 1469 and short of funds, King Christian I of Denmark and Norway pawned Orkney and Shetland to Scotland to pay for the dowry of his 12 year-old daughter Margaret for whom he arranged marriage to James III of Scotland. Scotland annexed both territories in 1472, and subsequently refused all offers to redeem them for several centuries thereafter. The Norse language and customs were broadly integrated into the Scots daily life, and this amalgamation is amply evident today. On the Friday (Aug. 8) of Fiddle Frenzy, special workshops will focus on Norwegian-style fiddling. janet

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Frenzy itinerary

Mon 4 Aug 08
07:00-Arrive Lerwick, Ferry from Aberdeen
13:30-14:00 Activity: Registration & Welcome
14:00-16:00 Activity: Workshops - Medium/Fast
19:00-23:00 Activity: Fiddle Frenzy Dance - Jim Halcrow Band
Tue 5 Aug 08 Lerwick
10:30-12:30 Activity: Workshop - Medium/Fast
14:00-16:00 Activity: Workshop - Medium/Fast

19:30-22:00 Activity: Fiddle Frenzy - Jenna Reid band
Wed 6 Aug 08 Walls
10:30-12:30 Activity: Workshop - Medium/Fast Walls Hall
14:00-16:00 Activity: Trip, Jamieson's Spinning Shetland Ltd
19:30- 00:30 Activity: "An Evening With..." concert & dance, Walls Hall
Thu 7 Aug 08 Lerwick
10:30-12:30 Activity: Workshop - Medium/Fast
14:00-16:00 Activity: Trip, Old Scatness Settlement
19:30-22:00 Activity: Fiddle Frenzy - Catriona Macdonald & Annbjorg Lien Concert
Fri 8 Aug 08 Unst, Baltasound
10:30-12:30 Activity: Workshop - Norwegian style
14:00-16:00 Activity: Trip, tour Unst
19:30-00:30 Activity: Fiddle Frenzy - Drop the Box concert & dance
Sat 9 Aug 08 Eshaness
10:00-16:00 Activity: Trip to Eshaness

19:00 Ferry, Lerwick to Aberdeen

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Getting there

Last year we flew via Icelandair to/from Glasgow. Our route took us to an overnight on Skye and a weeklong harp workshop on the island of Lewis, Outer Hebrides with Wendy Stewart. We then traveled by bus and ferry to Stromness, Orkney and on to Lerwick, Shetland via the overnight ferry from Kirkwall. We returned via ferry to Aberdeen, rail to Glasgow, flight to Boston. We loved the Northlink ferries (see 'ferry' link, under Frenzy links). We especially liked our airline stopover in Reykjavik, where we had time to visit the Blue Lagoon before boarding for the transatlantic journey.

This year Janet and I are traveling solo on the outbound leg from Boston. I am flying to London via BA a few days before the 'frenzy.' I'll be visiting with my son and his wife, who now live there. It's possible to fly to Shetland from London, but we decided to fly to Aberdeen on Sunday, Aug 3, so as to enjoy a hotel room on the Northlink ferry. I'll be meeting Janet on that flight (hopefully). We arrive in Lerwick Aug. 4 for day 1 of the 'frenzy.' We'll be leaving Lerwick for Aberdeen on Aug. 9., overnight London Aug. 10 and 11, to Boston Aug. 12. jane

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fiddling and harping coming full-circle

I was introduced to violin in grade school, took several years of lessons, and played in school orchestras through high school. I vividly recall my embarrassment, when I was about 13 yrs. old, the little old lady who lived in the apartment building next to mine, stopping me and gushing over how much my playing had improved. I was immediately struck by how much she must have suffered in the process...

While I was in high school, an elderly family friend , Prof. Walter Baldwin gave me his old German-made violin, which sounded immensely better than the recommended school instrument my mother had so carefully budgetted to buy me for $65. Many years later I took a couple more years of lessons while my young children Bradley and Heather were studying Suzuki violin and cello. Then, only many years later, with significantly reduced family and work responsibilities, did I return to the joys and challenges of playing music on a regular basis.

I started playing Celtic harp, which I had long fancied, with Kathleen Guilday (through the CCE Program at Harvard and Boston College), who introduced me to a wealth of traditional music, including Da Day Dawns, a Shetland air traditionally played on New Year's Day. Through Kathleen's classes I was also introduced to her other students, a remarkably eclectic and jolly group, including the inimitable Jane. When we attended the outstanding summer Gaelic Roots program at Boston College, we were drawn to the infectious enthusiasm of the fiddling all around us. Rather adventurously (and audaciously), we both signed up for a class with the Shetland fiddler Catriona MacDonald, whose playing had captivated us, especially her rendition of Michael's Mazurka. She gave an entrancing lecture on the Shetland Islands, its history and music, and, as they say, the "rest is history".

It all took several years to evolve, facilitated by our harping with Shetlander Catriona McKay and fiddling with Shetlander Chris Stout, who gave us some very good advice on the week-long Fiddle Frenzy extravaganza, how you really do get out to the Shetland Islands, places to stay, etc. This past week at this year's Harp In The Hills Retreat, we had the pleasure of harping Da Day Dawns under the excellent tutelage of Maeve Gilchrist using her evocative arrangement. Jane and I also took the opportunity to practice fiddling some of our old and new Shetland tunes. We took the precaution of removing ourselves to another building so as not to drown out (and risk some creative retribution from) our good harping colleagues. janet

Tom Anderson

Tom Anderson is a legend in Shetland fiddle history. The accompanying 'musicians' link under the 'Frenzy links' heading will guide you to his biography. He was an outstanding fiddler, composer, collector of tunes; a teacher, advocate, and promoter of Shetland music. His album, The Silver Bow, recorded with Aly Bain in the 1970's, contains the core fiddle repertoire of Shetland. A CD version is still available. jane

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

From fiddle to harp and back...

Although I played the violin as a child, my introduction to traditional music began with the celtic harp. After retirement, I started lessons. One of the earliest tunes I learned was a Shetland tune, Da Slockit Light, by Tom Anderson, in an arrangement by my harp teacher at the time, Kathleen Guilday. I recall being enchanted by the melody. As I listened to more traditional music, I realized I was missing a lot by not playing fiddle, too. I dusted off my grandfather's fiddle, fixed it up, and started fiddle lessons. Not long after, I attended a workshop by Catriona MacDonald at Boston College. Once again I was struck by the Shetland tunes and inspired to come to Shetland by Catriona's presentation. This past week I was at a harp workshop with Maeve Gilchrist, who taught us her lovely arrangement of Da Day Dawns. jane

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Shetland itinerary

If you click on the map above, you will link to another, detailed map of the Shetland Islands.

Our itinerary for 2008 workshops just arrived in the mail. Home base is, again, the Isleburgh Centre in Lerwick. We are excited about outings for workshops in Walls on the west of the mainland and in Baltasound on the island of Unst. We are planning side trips to Old Scatness (near Sumburgh, main island) and Eshaness.

In 2007 we traveled for workshops in Vidlin on the far east of the main island. On another day we went by bus/ferry/bus to the island of Yell. In addition, Janet and I took a side trip to Scalloway and West Burra. Later in the week we also took a 'nature' boat trip around Bressay to see nesting colonies of guillemots; skua and puffins. Photo albums from Scalloway, W. Burra, and Yell will be up soon. jane

Monday, June 30, 2008

Fiddlin' in Vidlin

Right away we learned that anyone who has earned the title 'Young Fiddler of the Year' in Shetland is wonderful. Our teacher for the week, Mark Laurenson, is one such fiddler. He was a patient teacher, as well as a dazzling player. (Sorry for the fuzzy snapshots.)

Shetland Arts maintains a website, www.shetland-music.com with bios and music samples from many of the fiddlers and groups we heard over the course of the week. They included (in no special order) Brian Gear, Aly Bain, Margaret Scollay, Gemma Donald, Chris Stout, Fiddlers Bid, accompanist Violet Tulloch ... and many, many others. One highlight for us was a 'wan to wan' with Brian Gear and Violet Tulloch.
Nothing but the best. Jane

Monday, June 23, 2008


If you have an addiction to fiddling, the Shetland Fiddle Frenzy is a good place to get a fix. The weeklong festival involves total non-stop immersion in Shetland fiddling. There are 2 instructional workshops daily (grouped according to level), ensemble learning for the big weekend performance, outstanding concerts every night, impromptu and scheduled sessions in between.

Most of the instruction is given at the Isleburgh Community Centre in Lerwick. In 2007, on one day, the entire school moved to Vidlin, a village on the east side of the main island. Another day, we traveled by bus/ferry/bus to the island of Yell. Janet and I visited Scalloway one afternoon on an optional side trip from Lerwick. Photos of our outings will be posted in our albums.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


So where are the Shetlands? Most maps of Scotland show the Shetland Islands as an inset, making it difficult to appreciate their geographic proximity to Scotland or other countries. Let's just say, Shetland is located between the mainland of Scotland and the mainland of Norway. Following is a direct quote from the website http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/. A good map of the Shetland Islands is located there at

Because most maps of Scotland include Shetland in a box near the top right hand corner, not many people have a strong sense of where this archipelago of 100 islands and islets lies. It comes as a surprise to many to discover it is nearer Bergen than Aberdeen; that it is further north than Moscow or southern Greenland; and that Lerwick is as far as Milan from London. The population of Shetland is around 23,000.
Shetland was Norse until 8 September 1468, when the islands were mortgaged to Scotland for 8,000 florins as part of the marriage agreement between the future James III and Princess Margrethe of Denmark. In 1472 the Scots annexed both Shetland and Orkney.
Shetland measures about 70 miles from Sumburgh Head in the south to Muckle Flugga off the coast of Unst in the north. With a land area of 567 square miles enclosed by a coastline of 900 miles, nowhere is more than three miles from the sea, and very few places are out of sight of it.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Shetland Connection

We want to share our experiences in Shetland with friends and family. Last year we discovered that the visitor centre, a short walk from our hotel (The Grand Hotel) has computers available to tourists.
When we arrive we'll be able to post to this blog regularly. For now, we'll be adding photos from our 2007 visit. Our photos from 2008 will be added after we return. Readers can look now at www.shetlandfiddlefrenzy.com for a complete schedule of 'Frenzy' events for 2008. Additional information about Shetland can be found at www.visitshetland.com. Contact information during our stay can be found at the hotel website www.kgqhotels.co.uk.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Last year we attained a bit of notoriety in Lerwick, center of the main island of Shetland. All week at the Shetland Fiddle Frenzy we attended teaching sessions, concerts, side trips. Finally, Saturday morning we had free time to visit the music store - High Level Music - where we loaded up with CD's. The women at the register said, "We heard there were 2 ladies from Boston here." So, our reputation had preceded us -- hence, the title of this blog.

We had such a wonderful time we can't wait to go back. Last year we caught up with Chris Stout and Catriona McKay, whom we had met at workshops in the USA. This year we look forward to meeting Catriona MacDonald again, whose workshop and concerts we attended at Gaelic Roots, Boston College, a number of years ago.