February 2013 – Holiday to a fiddle weekend, Fèis Gleann Albainn, Fort Augustus, Scottish Highlands. Aim? To learn some tunes, have a nice time, drink some whisky then return to Liverpool and continue with classical music career, settle down and live happily ever after. Reality? Fall in love with Scotland, Scottish music and 6 months later move to Glasgow with no money, no contacts, no clue on fiddling on a viola. Fast-forward to February 2017 – freelance session musician/performer, instrumental tutor for local music service, Glasgow Fiddle Workshop and private students, Traditional Music Summer School, Workshop Leader, member of The Routes Quartet, Composer and PhD student. No sleep, still no money but extremely happy.
That is a summary of how I became to be where I currently am, sitting in the library of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, 3 months into a part-time PhD course focusing on the Viola in Scottish Traditional Music and wondering how on earth to start a blog about it all. Having never studied traditional music, of any nation, or not grown up in a folky-family surrounded by tunes, I came to Scotland overwhelmed and bewildered. 17 years of musical engagement seemed to not have prepared me for Scottish music. All the tunes, how do people remember them? Why is there no sheet music? How can things go that fast?! More tunes. New tunes. Old tunes. Highland tunes. East-Coast tunes. West Coast tunes. Borders tunes. Shetland tunes. Cape Breton tunes. Orcadian tunes. Gaelic. Scots. Pibroch. Pipes, different types of pipes. Fèisean. Armies of fiddle players. More tunes…
I’m happy to say I can now play by ear, actively engage in sessions and have a bank of tunes in my head. Being primarily a viola player but with no violas in sight initially I picked up my violin (fiddle) and spent most of my time learning through the fiddle but always with the view of someday transferring my skills back to the viola. It started in my teaching at first, encouraging younger students to try tunes, by ear, on their violas. I began to notice recording artists including viola on albums, played by fiddle players and I also started a folk string quartet, The Routes Quartet, in which I play the Viola. Through this I started composing tunes on my viola and eventually sharing them with friends and peers. Feeling like I’d made some head way and having always been relatively studious I looked to linking my endeavours to some sort of study, maybe a Masters, I thought. After a few meetings with academics, a two year contemplation period and a research proposal I find myself a PhD student of The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
This blog is intended to help me reflect on my creative, artistic and research practices. Consolidate ideas and develop a coherent writing style… First things first though, I must remember to write in the actual blog. I’m not ignorant to the perception that this might also seem a little self indulgent, of course I want to develop my own playing and knowledge for my own ends but who doesn’t? Can research, performing and composing not be beneficial to more than one person? Who knows how long it’ll take, I’ve been faced with so many PhD horror stories but I just want to focus on now and hopefully my research will contribute something…Something to students, to fellow musicians and maybe even something to Scottish Music itself.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings and contributions from friends, family, colleagues. Please share anything information with me. I am an open book.