I got a call last week from the director of the local Scottish Fiddle Orchestra, which I joined for a couple months before having my baby in November. Since his birth, though, I haven’t been to a single rehearsal. So when the director said that the orchestra was missing several key players and needed me to come out, I agreed. Plus, there was the added incentive of rehearsals being moved to my town, instead of being forty minutes away.
Last night found me packing up my violin, hunting for my music folder, and collapsing the faithful old black stand – motions that are so familiar I could do them in my sleep. I headed to the venue and found the group shuffling their chairs around. “Where do you want me?” I asked. “Right up here,” the director barked. “Beside me.” I suddenly found myself in the second principal chair, about to play music I haven’t looked at in over five months. I felt a twinge of nervousness.
We launched right into the pieces – Highland Scottisches, a Scott Skinner medley, a bunch of reels, Dark Island, Red Red Rose. I’m still caught up in the intrigues of the Outlander books at home, so the songs were the perfect soundtrack to the mental images playing through my mind.
It didn’t take long for me to remember why I love Scottish music, despite being a classically-trained violinist. It’s so catchy and upbeat, yet simple and repetitive. The basic melodies can be varied, stretched, condensed, elaborated, improvised upon, sped up, slowed down. The flexibility, along with the fullness you get from a full orchestra, is so satisfying. There’s nothing like some well-played jigs and reels to put a smile on people’s faces. The music simply begs to be danced, even by those who know nothing of Scottish dancing. (See the very end of “A few facts on life as a redhead” to read a funny story about fiddling and dancing.)
Then Rick arrived, a fashionable twenty minutes late. He plays the accordion and is my absolute favourite feature of the entire orchestra. A middle-aged Scottish gentleman, probably in his late sixties, he’s the only one of us who plugs into an amp, so his accordion essentially drowns us all out. When Rick is playing, you can’t do anything but listen. Now, the funny thing is that Rick is always playing. He plays while the director is trying to talk.
He also plays at the speed that he deems correct for the piece, regardless of how loudly the director is tapping his foot. Last night it took about five failed attempts to get Rick the right tempo for a collection of reels, and of course it’s paramount for Rick to have the right tempo, because that’s pretty much all we can hear. The director is never accusatory, never pinpoints it as being Rick’s fault, but simply says, “Let’s start again,” with a sigh of exasperation. Sometimes Rick selects the key of the piece without consulting the sheet music, which usually ends in disaster.
Having spent a fair bit of time in rigidly strict orchestras, in which the conductor’s orders are obeyed instantaneously and there is minimal disruption at any point, Rick is precisely the kind of musician that would normally drive me nuts. In this orchestra, however, it’s to the contrary. I thoroughly enjoy his antics and the comedic aspect that he brings to these long evening rehearsals. Combined with the conspiratorial winks that he occasionally sends my way and his smooth Scottish brogue that I hear when he chooses to argue aloud with the director, I can’t help but find him quite endearing.
So that’s where I’ll be for the next few Thursday evenings, fiddling away for two hours till my unaccustomed fingers are black from the fingerboard and sore from the strings, and the muscles in my left forearm ache. The pain doesn’t bother me, because I’m making music, and that’s one of the most satisfying things in this world.