Chat with a Scottish Dancer

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Chicago’s very own Tim Macdonald showed off his fiddling prowess at the Glenfiddich Piping and Fiddle Championships in Scotland last month. We caught up with him after his triumphant return at the Fall Dance to find out what it was like playing on the international stage.

How was it performing at such a prestigious competition?

Delightful, of course! Naturally it was an honor to be chosen, and there was a real ambiance to it that I haven’t found in America—there’s the factor of bringing the music back to Scotland where it all began, but the venue itself was incredible. Perthshire was the birthplace of many of the Scottish fiddling greats, including Niel and Nathaniel Gow, and Robert Mackintosh, and Blair Castle (where the competition was) is where Niel worked for many years. His portrait hung on the wall right next to where I played. And it wasn’t just the setting of course—the event brought together eleven top-notch fiddlers, half a dozen premiere accompanists, and hundreds of appreciative audience members, and it was really satisfying to get to meet other lovers of Scottish music.

How do you think you did?

No performance is perfect, but overall I was very pleased with how Jeremy and I played.

The word through the grapevine is that your set was the most popular. How did the audience react?

The audience had been a little bit subdued throughout the competition (there was even a sign prohibiting foot-tapping) but they were pretty enthusiastic after we played. Fiddle music—folk music—is fundamentally music for everyone, not some elite sect of concert-goers, so I was really glad that our playing helped open them up. And I was thrilled to have many different people come talk to me after the competition and say how much they enjoyed the performance and that they’d never heard music like that before.

What was your favorite part of visiting Scotland?

So many things to choose from! I’d have to say it was meeting so many wonderful people, from those at the Glenfiddich to the six musicologists I got to have a conversation with to the dozens of people I got to talk to and play with at jam sessions.

What is your next goal as a musician?

I have some interesting composition projects coming up, but I think the most exciting challenge I have coming up soon is to help the BBE stage The Gentle Shepherd, Scotland’s first opera.

And where is the link to you performing on the BBC website?

The fiddling starts at 1:18:08. Tim starts at 1:35:40

Just for fun, enjoy this video of Tim on the pocket fiddle:

Photo courtesy of Studio Starling