On my way back from the Winter Fiddle Festival in Kelso, I planned a stop in Edinburgh to visit my friend and fellow Fulbrighter, Shana Ferguson. The train ride is under an hour and I had the good fortune of sitting next to Alasdair Fraser who was also making his way to Edinburgh. During the the trip, he was kind enough to share his thoughts on traditional music and teaching.
Alasdair started our conversation by saying that the phrase, "Learn by heart" means just that: music comes from within, not from a sheet of paper. Thatʼs why his teaching style focuses on "undoing" and "unpacking" so that students can look within for their music and have the space in which to do it. Alasdair questioned why we equate music to notes on a staff when music is an aural medium. Each flourish can be played differently each time you play the tune (i.e. how you enter into the note, how long you stay on each note, etc.) Those kinds of decisions come from within and canʼt be constrained by visual representation on sheet music.
Alasdair shared that his passion for traditional music comes from a place of anger - a fire in his belly. His grandfather couldnʼt speak Gaelic because it was seen as the language of poverty and the poor so schools wouldnʼt allow it. Alasdair didnʼt go to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland because students would be kicked out if they played Scottish music. He has seen how many organizations come from a position of power and injustice. It is one reason why Alasdairʼs fiddle program is non-institutional and involves no money. It is founded on 4 key principles, which creates a safe place to be who you are:
My time was short in Edinburgh, but Shana was kind enough to take me to the cemetery where Thomas Riddell of Harry Potter fame is buried. We made it just in time as a tour group of Harry Potter fans were on our heals. Thank you, Shana. You helped me find the right angle for my shots. I look forward to seeing you again in March to hear your presentation at the University of Edinburgh. I also stopped in a nearby cafe for an oatmeal latte and chocolate chip scone with cream and jam. When my server found out I was from Alaska, she could hardly contain herself. It has been a dream of hers to travel there someday. I gave her an Alaskan pin to help keep those dreams alive :)
This is a personal blog, sharing my experiences living in the UK from January - June 2019 as a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching scholar. This blog is not an official site of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State. The views expressed on this site are entirely my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.