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Fiddlers find their voices in music

Scottish melodies and tunes drift across the San Juan Ridge where Alasdair Fraser, world-renowned Scottish fiddler and 17-year Nevada City resident, has created a hidden musical oasis in far northern Nevada County.

“It (the camp) touches the heart of the people involved,” Fraser said in a pronounced Scottish accent. “They become empowered by it. When I was a kid, I was very shy, but I had this fiddle that allowed me to communicate. It gave me a voice. That was one of the great surprises to me when I started. This (the camp) gives people a means of expression.”

For the past 23 years, Fraser and his wife, Sally Ashcraft, have been running fiddle camps throughout Northern California, enabling many to have a musical voice of their own.



“Alasdair and I started a nonprofit called Scottish Fiddlers of California in 1984,” Sally Ashcraft said, listening to the floating melodies of a nearby cello and fiddle. “We had a fiddle camp then at the Valley of the Moon (located in the Northern California redwoods). This year will be its 24th year. After the third year, we didn’t have any room to grow so we looked around for a camp in the summer. We thought this would be smaller, but it filled up. So now we have two camps with two waiting lists.”

Both The Valley of the Moon and Sierra Fiddle Camp offer a unique environment where musicians ranging in ability and age from 4 months to 85 are welcomed and songs are learned and taught by ear training alone – you won’t find a single music stand in the music tents.




This year, Fraser has invited accomplished fiddlers Pascal Gemme from Quebec and Harald Haugard from Denmark to help instruct fiddle classes. Gemme was inspired to take up the fiddle when he heard his grandfather play. He has a degree in big-band arrangements and classical and jazz guitar. Haugard was accepted at the Carl Nielsen Academy in Odense in 1994, where he later became a music teacher.

“I just love the idea of people coming from all corners of this country and abroad,” Fraser said. “There’s a bigger thing here. It’s a safe community and that’s a great place to be, you can take a flying leap into the unknown and be OK. The biggest thing is to encourage people to make their own statement. I love seeing people become hungry to be creative.”

Growing up at Fraser’s fiddle camps, cellist Natalie Haas is one individual who has been touched by the creativity found at the camps.

“It’s totally changed my musical life,” Haas said as she prepared to teach aspiring cellists at the Sierra Fiddle Camp. “I never really considered going into music until I went to camp. I feel like I grew up here. Everyone is coming from these different backgrounds, but we all share a love for music.”

Haas began attending fiddle camp when she was 11. Now 23, Haas not only teaches cello courses at the camp but also regularly acts as Fraser’s accompanist and is a recent graduate of the Juilliard School.

“I totally fell in love with the music,” Haas said. “Alasdair has been a really great person and inspiring. He’s made me realize I can do this for a living.”

Eleven-year-old cellist Merlin Micoleau and his 10-year-old fiddling sister Fiona Micoleau have also been inspired by summers spent at fiddle camp.

“It’s just that we really enjoy playing music together,” Merlin said, retrieving his cello from underneath a nearby tree.

After playing the cello for one year, Merlin has taken an interest in percussion and guitar. Fiona enjoys singing and the fiddle classes offered at the volunteer-run camp.

“It’s just fun,” Fiona said, plucking the strings of her small fiddle. “The teacher picks good songs.”

“This is a culmination of all the practicing we’ve done all year,” Suzanne Bardsley, mother of Merlin and Fiona, said. “It’s so great – you go from fiddle, to piano, to dance.”

After a week of music, dance and fun, Fraser and his 220 campers will perform at the Nevada County Fairgrounds for the second annual Fiddlers at the Fairgrounds concert on Saturday.

“How do you go from being a player who plays in time to a player that burns hot and scares dancers?” Fraser questions his advanced fiddling class, preparing them for the weekend’s big event. “Next week, we will have a band that is like no other.”

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To contact Staff Writer Lindsey Croft, e-mail lindseyc@theunion .com or call 477-4247.

KNOW & GO

WHAT: Fiddlers at the Fairgrounds, a rollicking celebration of music, song and dance with Alasdair Fraser and more than 100 fiddlers performing

WHEN: Saturday, June 30; concert begins at 7:30 p.m.; gate opens at 6 p.m. for picnicking.

WHERE: Nevada County Fairgrounds, 11228 McCourtney Road, Gate 1, Grass Valley

ADMISSION: Tickets $18 in advance at Yabobo in Nevada City, BriarPatch and The Book Seller in Grass Valley and Cherry Records in Auburn; $20 at the gate; children 12 and under admitted free.

INFORMATION: Call 530-477-0708 or go online at http://www.sierrafiddlecamp.org, click on fiddlersatfairgrounds.


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