There is no written music at Alasdair Fraser’s Sierra Fiddle Camp.
“We learn it from the heart – and play it from there,” Fraser said Sunday, the first full day of the idyllic camp located along the North San Juan Ridge.
Fraser has had this week to inspire 250 “rambunctious, anarchistic, adventure-seeking musicians” to coalesce into a “village orchestra” for the ninth annual Grand Fiddler’s Rally Saturday.
This year, the rally returns to the Nevada County Fairgrounds as part of the Music in the Mountains Summer Fest.
Although Fraser is a world-famous Scottish fiddler, not all the music is Scottish and not all the musicians are fiddlers (only about half of them). The rest of the campers play cello, guitar, piano, banjo and percussion. And then there are the singers and Ceilidh dancers.
This is the first time since the inaugural event that the Grand Rally will partner with Music in the Mountains. “I love it,” Fraser said, adding that the fairgrounds has always been his preferred venue. “It’s great to be in partnership with Music in the Mountains.”
“The hope is that we’ll get 700 to 1,200 folks” to attend the Grand Rally,” said Roberta McClellan, marketing director for MIM.
Ask Fraser what the difference is between a violin and a fiddle, and he’ll lean in with a conspiratorial whisper and say, “There’s no difference.”
Ask him what the difference is between Scottish fiddling and Irish fiddling, and he’ll tell you, “about 15 miles,” with a grin. Fraser is known – if not notorious – for his warm sense of humor and high-spirited exuberance.
He’s serious about having a good time with his campers, and he has a very specific agenda.
First of all, he insists on an intergenerational mix of musicians. “It’s very deliberately about all ages,” he said.
Second, “We love to teach multilingual music-making,” he said. “We become linguists of different musical dialects. I’m interested in removing the barriers.”
Third, world peace through music. “We need to be talking and listening to each other. We need to blend arts and cultures,” he reasoned. “The planet needs that.”
One of the things that makes the Sierra Fiddle Camp so special is that Fraser brings in world-class musicians to both teach and perform.
“We have some of the best musicians in a village where they happily share their knowledge,” Fraser smiled. They give students “permission to express themselves.”
Several of those teacher/performers are former students.
Cellist Natalie Haas is one. She first attended Fraser’s Valley of the Moon Scottish Fiddling School (Fraser has several camps) when she was 11. She moved on to the Juilliard School, and now 40, she has toured with Fraser for the last 12 years.
In the Scottish tradition, Fraser plays the “little fiddle” and Haas plays the “big fiddle.”
While it’s not possible to name all the teacher/performers, some of the featured soloists will be Brittany Haas (Natalie’s sister) on fiddle, singer/composer Moira Smiley, banjoist Jayme Stone, and Anders Hall, who brings a Scandinavian dialect (and Hardanger fiddle) to this year’s show.
Additionally, local fiddler Ethan Lewis, another Fraser student-now-teacher, will perform. Lewis plays with the group 1000 Years at Sea.
Also, Fraser’s son Galen, a fiddler in his own right, will join the rally as one of the Ceilidh dance gurus.
And special guests Ryan Murray, MIM’s resident conductor, on bagpipes and his wife Jane McPherson on the side drum will join in the fun.
Family friendly picnic
With Fraser’s intergenerational mix, the music at the rally will appeal to all ages, which makes it a natural family-friendly event.
The gates open at 6:30 p.m. to give people a chance to spread out their blankets and low-back chairs on the lawn for a pre-concert picnic. While guests may bring their own food and soft drinks, no outside alcohol is allowed.
However, the MIM Alliance, an all-volunteer support group, will have wine, beer, and other beverages for sale.
Additionally, for those who eschew picnic baskets, the following vendors will be selling food at the rally: Papa Murphy’s Pizza, Coloma Wraps, An Honest Pie, and Old 5Mile House.
After the picnic, when the Grand Fiddler’s Rally starts, Fraser said, from the heart, “I want this music to be infectious. We want the audience to feel included.”
Tom Durkin is a freelance writer and photographer in Nevada City. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I want this music to be infectious. We want the audience to feel included.”
- Alasdair Fraser