Living abroad for six months could be very isolating, especially when traveling alone. Fortunately music has created pockets of community wherever I go. In Glasgow, I have weekly mandolin and fiddle lessons at the Glasgow Folk Workshop where the customary tea and comfort break is built-in to the 2-hour lesson and allows me to not only mingle with my fellow classmates, but also make new friends.
The fiddle weekend in Kelso, also opened me to the network of Fèis going on throughout the year, which often come in the form of extended weekends, holidays or summer camps. It took some digging online to find one or two of these gatherings, but once I attended one, I was dialed into an entire network often through word-of-mouth. Folks attending one Fèis tend to participate in others, so people generously share what they know. These fèisean are great ways to connect with people from all over the UK and reconnect with each other in the future.
Fèis Gleann Albainn is one of those gatherings. It is held every March in the beautiful town of Fort Augustus, situated along the shores of Loch Ness (yes, the same Loch Ness monster fame). When I walked into my first fiddle class, I was impressed again by the caliber of teaching talent. One participant quietly gasped in awe of the folks assembled here to teach and inspire us. All of the tutors (pictured above) played in bands and taught extensively. These professional musicians help sustain and grow the number of people playing traditional Scottish music because of their teaching and inspiring performances. Check out their websites and consider supporting their music:
Much like Kelso, we arrived Friday night to play a session where folks registered, reconnected, laughed, played and socialized over a drink. Saturday and Sunday were full days of teaching with just a 2-hour break before people gathered for an evening session in pubs throughout town based upon their playing level. Since I was a beginner at Scottish fiddling, I planted myself in the Slow Session held at the hostel where many people visited later to jam through the wee hours of the morning. Like Kelso, these sessions were highly motivational and inclusive. Every space was utilized for mini-jam sessions based upon skill or knowledge of pieces and all were welcome to join. Even though I didnʼt know many of the pieces, I felt much more comfortable learning by ear, especially during the day classes where I held my own - more quickly finding anchor notes, listening for patterns and intervals, and connecting all of this to the basic form of a traditional Scottish tune. Tutors also repeated passages many times over until the sound was more fluid and musical. I used each repetition to isolate a particular skill (i.e. bowing, fingering, staying relaxed, etc.)
When I returned to Glasgow and my GFW mandolin and fiddle lessons, I recognized many of the Fort Augustus faces in the crowd. Yes, music creates community and friendship! For those of you interested in Fèis being offered throughout the year for adults, hereʼs what I found:
I would like to thank FiddleClass.com for creating a list of fiddle classes throughout Scotland, which helped me locate my first Fèis, Leon Firth for his company at breakfast and the bus trip back to Glasgow and Bill Skeoch, for organizing a stellar weekend in Fort Augustus.
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.