Friday, April 27, 2012

Canadian fiddles with Celtic culture

Bilingual sign, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, in S...Bilingual sign, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, in Scottish Gaelic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)Scottish tenants brutally forced off their land in the Highland Clearances of the late 18th and early 19th centuries have a direct bearing on why Gillian Boucher plays the fiddle.

The Canadian violinist, who will perform with musicians Andrew White and Owen Van Larkins at the Bent Horseshoe Cafe in Tokomaru tomorrow, says she was so uncool at school in the 1970s, learning to play traditional Scottish music on the violin. Everyone else was learning drums or guitar; the idea still persisted to internationalise (or dump) the local Scottish culture.

Her maternal grandparents' first language was Gaelic, but in the 1960s, her parents were punished if they spoke Gaelic or French at school.

English or nothing: Boucher's electing to learn the music of her great-grandparents was offbeat, to say the least. "Now, of course, with tourism, it's become trendy. In a class of 30 children these days you'll find five or six learning the fiddle."

Nova Scotia in Canada was heavily settled by Scottish presbyterians forced from their land.

They had nowhere else to go and emigration was the only solution. Boucher's mother's family came to the Cape Breton area at that time; her father was a French Canadian.

"I love my Scottish heritage. It's something special. The music is dance-based, very percussive and rhymical."

It sobers her to think how much of the culture was lost in the clearances. The people forced to move were generally very poor – "they didn't wear tartan, not rich enough . . . that's a modern innovation that's come in with the whole Scottish culture revival" – and many of their dances didn't survive the shift.

"What we've got now, children doing solo dances in full clan tartan, is a modern phenomenon. I'm glad that much has been kept, but it's a modern development." The music survived because people could still sing it, even if they didn't initially have fiddles or pipes to play it.

The international award-winner says the Celtic style is a backbone of her work. She's also a classically trained pianist, and she enjoys collaborating with other musicians.

"I started very traditional Scottish, but my last albums have been mixed Celtic rock, Scottish/Irish crossover. I love collaboration; I've been living in Turkey for over a year, and I can hear some of that influence coming into my work.

"In five years time? I don't know. I'd love to be at big international festivals, working the sound of the music into some great collaborations."

She says collaborating takes creative courage, with the need to be brave increasing the more artistic reputations get established.

"It's very easy to sink into a comfort zone, and just stay comfy. It gets harder to say to other people, I don't know anything about what you're doing, may I learn, please?

"That takes courage."

Andrew White – vocals, finger-style guitar; Gillian Boucher – Celtic fiddling; Owen Van Larkins – finger-style guitar. Bent Horseshoe Cafe, Tokomaru, 8pm. Bookings essential.

Canadian fiddles with Celtic culture |

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