Itâs been around three years since I last visited the USA but the end of this year has been unusual in that Iâve had a couple of visits there in November and December but more on that later.
For much of 2013 Iâve been working on the Atomic Doric project for Woodend Barn Arts Centre in Banchory and the 30th of November saw the culmination of my efforts with a concert at the barn premiering my new music. Well known Oban fiddler, Aidan oâ Rourke also performed some of his work and itâs been great catching up and performing with him during the project. I composed 22 pieces during my residency and given the time constraints of the concert I only performed 12 of them at the concert with an equal emphasis on the Muir of Dinnet and Mar Lodge inspired tunes. The new music was very well received and the Atomic Doric project has been a joy to be part of.
For the last few months of this year Iâve also been working on the âHeilan Drove Roadsâ project for Deveron Arts in Huntly. Iâve worked with Deveron Arts in the past as I was their first musician in residence about ten years ago. Most of my efforts so far have been in field work trips but from now till the end of March Iâll be crafting a symphony inspired by the extensive drove road network of the North-East of Scotland. After a meeting at Deveron Arts this week itâs been decided to expand the scope of the work and it will now be scored for a full symphony orchestra rather than a small ensemble as was originally planned, which is an exciting development. The premier of the work will be at end of August as part of a special homecoming event in Huntly organised by the pipe band.
The first of my trips to the States was to the Argyle Scottish Week in Alexandria, Virginia which as well as being a celebration of Scottish culture is one of the biggest Scottish Country Dance events on the East coast. As well as performing for a couple of dance classes (led by the superb teachers Ron Wallace and Elaine Brunken) and two evening balls, I gave a Scots fiddle workshop to an enthusiastic and capable group of musicians. It was a great weekend and a special thanks to my wonderful hosts who looked after me so well. While in Alexandria I took in a few American Civil War sites including the famous Antietam Battlefield in beautiful Maryland. The national park with its visitor centre was well worth the visit and seeing historic spots such as âBurnsideâs Bridgeâ, the âWest Woodsâ, the âCorn Fieldâ and the âBloody Laneâ was a sobering experience. After a day seeing the sights of Washington D.C, I headed down to Stannardsville in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia which bear a startling similarity to my native Deeside and where there are plans afoot to twin Stannardsville with my hometown of Tarland; plans which Iâve high hopes will come to fruition over the next few years. While there I was treated to a memorable night of music and moonshine with some of the local musicians and playing with along with some of the local old time tunes was one of the highlights of the trip.
My second trip began one again in Virginia though this time in the massive U.S Naval port of Norfolk. This visit was at the invitation of Donna and Dave Thomas who direct the special series of Christmas concerts at Norfolk First Baptist church. After a visit to Scotland in 2012 they had the idea to theme the 2013 event as a âCeltic Christmasâ, hence my own involvement. It was an extremely impressive event with a full orchestra, a band, 165 member choir and the Tidewater pipes and drums, and not to mention the 1500 seat auditorium. My personal highlights were performing my composition âLuskentyreâ with an orchestral accompaniment, a visit to the Yorktown battlefield and the opportunity to use an authentic 73. Winchester at a private range. It was up to a cold New York for a workshop, Scottish country dance class and a concert in Queens. There was however a fair bit of time to sightsee and as it was my wife Shonaâs first trip to the States we took in a fair few of the sights with the highlights being a visit to the top of the Rockefeller Centre and a trip out to Liberty Island to see the iconic statue close up. The dance class was grand but unfortunately the workshop and concert were very badly affected by a severe snow storm which made the roads extremely hazardous to drive on, so numbers were poor. Och well, thatâs risk of organising events in December but it was a great trip all the same.
To finish off the year it was whatâs now the fifth Hogmanay concert Iâve produced and directed at the Aberdeen Music Hall. It was another great night which featured the Jonny Hardie (Old Blind Dogs) Ceilidh Band, Scots singer of the year Siobhan Miller, piper Jim Stevenson, dancer Joanne Pirrie, compere Robert Lovie accompanied by Raemond Jappy on piano and myself on solo fiddle accompanied by Jonny Hardie on guitar. It was a wonderful night and although theyâve all been great Hogmanay shows, this year was arguably the best (I do say that every year though) and a great end to 2013.