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SFSF Alasdair Fraser Directs CD

San Francisco Scottish Fiddlers with Alasdair Fraser
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Alasdair Fraser Directs the San Francisco Scottish Fiddlers

The Tunes

Anne Marie Barrie/Francis Au Coin/Down the Tannock Road

These three jigs are from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, the Canadian island where the Scottish musical culture of the 18th century is still alive in the 21st. The first two jigs were composed by the contemporary fiddler Howie MacDonald: the first is named in honor of one of Howie’s students, and the second in honor of the man who built Howie’s garage (there’s a certain Lake Woebegon streak in the people of Cape Breton, and you sometimes catch glimpses of it in the titles of their tunes). The last tune in the set was composed by Addie Harper.

MacKenzie Hay/The Auld Wheel/Sir David Davidson of Cantray

The first tune is a strathspey in the style of Northeast Scotland, composed by James Scott Skinner to honor Mackenzie Hay, the president of the Caledonian Society of London. Skinner also composed the second tune, a reel (the title refers to a mill). The final reel is by the early 19th century composer and dancing master John Lowe.

Gloomy Winter’s Noo Awa’

Sally Ashcraft sings this love song which celebrates the coming of spring (“Noo Awa’” is Scots for “now away”). The words are by Robert Tannahill (1774-1810), and are set to a haunting traditional melody. That melody was prominent in Michael Nyman’s score for the 1993 film “The Piano.”

Sandy MacIntyre’s Trip to Boston/Brenda Stubbert/Frank’s Reel

All three of these reels are by contemporary fiddlers, and all three demonstrate the tendency of fiddlers to name tunes in honor of friends and fellow musicians. The first is by John Campbell of Boston, the second by Jerry Holland of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The third is by the Scottish fiddler John McCusker, once a member of the Battlefield Band.

Captain O’Kane

Featuring Alasdair Fraser and Barbara MacDonald Magone, this is a beautiful melody which can be found in O’Neil’s famous collection of Irish fiddle tunes. Alasdair first heard it played by Buddy MacMaster in the early days of the Valley of the Moon summer fiddle camp. 

The Duke of Gordon’s Birthday/Lord MacDonald’s Reel/West Mabou Reel/Mrs. Macleod of Raasay

A piano solo from fiddle club member Barbara Macdonald Magone. Barbara grew up in the rich musical environment of the Cape Breton community in Detroit, MI and is heard here in a classic strathspey and reel medley. 

Med Solje og Stas

Traces of Scandinavian influence often show up in the music and culture of Scotland. We explored this angle in 2001 when the Norwegian fiddler Annbjorg Lien taught at the Valley of the Moon Scottish Fiddling School. One of the tunes she taught us was this bridal march, the title of whichmeans “With Silver & Stuff,” and refers to the bride’s traditional fashion accessories. Annbjorg also described for us the ritual that this tune would accompany. Picture, if you can, a large crowd of wedding guests, gathered outdoors, marching to the church while holding bowls of “wedding porridge” in their outstretched hands. (Caution: do not drive or operate heavy machinery while envisioning this Monty-Pythonesque tableau.)

Eilean Beag Donn A Chuain

This is an air by Donald Morrison; the title means "Little Brown Island in the Sea." Pronouncing a Gaelic title such as "Eilean Beag Donn A Chuain" is not easy for English speakers. First attempts at pronouncing the name of this tune usually sound like "Alien Pig," so we have taken to calling it that for simplicity’s sake.

Clach na Cudain/Mrs. Norman MacKeigan

Clach na Cudain refers to the keystone of Inverness and is a strathspey in the old highland style. The reel is by Cape Breton fiddler Dan R. MacDonald (1911-1976).

Liam O’Flynn’s/Brendan McMahon’s

Two traditional Irish reels. We learned them at the Valley of the Moon school from the popular Irish fiddler Martin Hayes, who specializes in mining musical riches from deceptively simple tunes.

Shakins O’ the Pocky

Howard Booster (fiddle) and Judy Thomson (piano) are featured in this old tune by Peter Milne and James Scott Skinner. The title refers to the last remnants of money being shaken out of the pockets of the composers in question—by themselves!

Paresis/Tommy’s Tarbukas

Two tricky reels with rather odd titles. Paresis is a medical term for weakness, but it’s not clear why anyone would apply that term to this fiery traditional reel. Tommy’s Tarbukas is even more challenging to play, but somewhat easier to explain; it was composed by Alasdair Fraser after he heard Tommy Hayes playing a Middle Eastern drum. Thanks to Alasdair’s long-time musical partner Paul Machlis for the arrangement on this tune.

Farewell to the Creeks (The Highland Division’s Farewell to Sicily)

Featuring the singing of Rod Cameron, the tune by Pipe Major James Robertson is a retreat march (a type of regimental pipe tune played at the close of the day). The late Hamish Henderson, a major figure in the Scottish folk revival, made the tune into a song called “The Highland Division’s Farewell to Sicily,” a reminiscence of his experiences during World War II.

Corrimonie’s Rant/Lassies of Stewarton/Pitnacree Ferryman/Barrowburn

Featuring Alasdair Fraser and Barbara MacDonald Magone, this medley consists of a strathspey and three reels, the last of which was composed by band leader Addie Harper from Wick.

Calliope House/MacArthur Road

A jig and a reel, both composed by Dave Richardson of the band Boys of the Lough, and both in the slightly unusual (for fiddlers) key of E major. The first honors Calliope House in Pittsburgh, PA, the home of piper and arts supporter George Balderose. The second tune honors Margaret MacArthur, Vermont singer and ballad collector, who happens to live on MacArthur Road.