It is clear that after more than 35 years playing and teaching around the world Alasdair Fraser is as passionate as ever about the uplifting power of traditional music.
The award-winning Scottish fiddler has earned a string of accolades for his live performances and racked up a number of radio, television and film credits over an illustrious career, which also saw him inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame in 2011.
But he is equally enthusiastic about passing on his skills and runs fiddle schools in Scotland, the US, Spain and Australia which are fully booked each year.
“I’ve never counted the number of people I’ve taught, but there’ve been a lot – 35 years of schools with 150-250 students of all ages and abilities.”, he said.
“I love to see these folks become empowered to know they can create a life in music – professionals or otherwise. Being around music is an important part of being alive, whether you’re playing or listening or dancing – or all three. It’s a potent force in our lives.”
Alasdair, who is based in California, will be back in Scotland this month when he and regular on-stage partner, the renowned cellist Natalie Haas, play at the Hebridean Celtic Festival. The duo will appear at An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway on Thursday, 19 July as part of the festival programme.
“It’s been too long since I was in Stornoway and I am looking forward to continuing where we left off a few years back”, he said.
“I am privileged to lead a life ‘following the fiddle’ and it will be a pleasure to play once again at An Lanntair.”
The duo, who have released five critically-acclaimed albums, have played together since 2003 after Alasdair pursued his desire to restore the ‘wee fiddle and big fiddle’ combination that flourished in 18th century Scotland to contemporary prominence.
“I wanted to explore the old use of the cello in Scottish music going back to the heyday of Niel Gow and the great 18th century dance repertoire”, he said. “Then along came Natalie who was perfectly suited to exploring the rhythmic and harmonic possibilities of fiddle and cello together.
“She has great groove and does things on the cello that open eyes and ears. It’s been an amazing journey to explore this music, old and new, together.”
The duo, whose debut album, ‘Fire and Grace’, was voted Album of the Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards 2004, have been touring in the US, France and Finland and will combine their Scottish gigs with workshops. These include Alasdair’s only UK fiddle camp, at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic college in Skye - now in its 32nd year - where Natalie is also a regular tutor.
The pair also teach at Alasdair’s annual camp near Nevada City, California, which was held for the 13th time last month, and at his Spanish camp in Arlanzon later this month (now in its 11th year); the Valley of the Moon Scottish Fiddling School in California (in its 35th year) in August and September, and the third Stringmania, in Victoria, Australia, in September and October.
“When you play traditional music you are often in the fortunate position of expressing the soul in a universal language”, Alasdair enthuses. “Every culture has its traditional music which it has fought to keep vibrant and relevant and Scotland is no exception.
“It’s a privilege to travel the world playing the old music but also to be living in the question of ‘what now?’ The tradition is alive and helps us ‘find our voice’. Plus, it’s just great fun.
“There’s nothing better than lighting up a room as you enquire into the power of playing traditional music together. It can be life-changing and immensely satisfying. It is also a great energy source and fun to meet so many kindred spirits across the planet.
“I now have fiddle schools in Scotland, US, Spain and Australia over the past 30 odd years and there has been a tremendous community that has grown out of that.
“There’s no question that this music is essential to a culture and it is gratifying to see people have the confidence again to pursue our music and language and experience the satisfaction of speaking and playing in their own voice.”
With no signs of slowing down, what else is lined up for Alasdair? “More recording, compositions, musical adventuring, ensemble ideas and general fanning of the flames of enquiry into our culture, creating community and celebrating the joy of playing music.”
This year’s HebCelt runs from 18-21 July with headliners Deacon Blue, The Fratellis, Eddi Reader, Skipinnish and Roddy Woomble.
Day tickets for HebCelt are available exclusively from the festival website. See www.hebceltfest.com