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

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