Education and experience for young musicians has, for many years, been at the forefront of the Celtic Connections mission. Each year Glasgow’s winter music festival holds more and more events aimed at encouraging and developing the skills of our young musicians. On the first weekend of this year’s festival Scottish fiddle quartet Rant introduced 4/4, A Project for Projection, in which the band work with a group of twelve young fiddlers from across Central Scotland to create a performance with a full-on fiddle sound.
Rant’s two albums to date have earned them glowing tributes in the music press and a nomination in the 2014 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. In 2012 Bethany Reid and Jenna Reid from Shetland joined Highland fiddlers Sarah-Jane Summers and Lauren MacColl for a tune session, and soon the four learned that together they could develop an original approach to the airs, jigs, Strathspeys and reels of the Scottish repertoire. The very apt description ‘chamber-folk quartet’ has been applied to Rant’s music and it fits perfectly the beautifully structured four-part arrangements that are the hallmark of the band’s work.
Opening the event with a set from Rant themselves, Bethany Reid leads off on the melody for JT’s – composed by Bethany for her husband, flautist/piper James Thomson. Immediately that four-fiddle sound starts working its charm on the audience. Lauren MacColl leads off on the reel, and Anna Massie does an excellent job of standing in for Sarah-Jane Summers as she takes up the melody, while the Reid sisters provide the driving rhythm. The pace is kept vigorous with another melody from Bethany, a joyful, cascading, celebratory march with a fresh, contemporary spirit, written for her Dad’s 60th birthday.
Fiddle music isn’t all about fire and flying feet, though, and James Scott Skinner‘s Geanie’s Lament shows us that Rant can create four-part fiddle harmonies to make the spine tingle. With a set that included a lively pipe melody, an enthralling piece inspired by an Icelandic choral hymn (Fyrir mig, Jesú, þoldir þú), and the evocative Jan’s Return, which comes from Bethany & Jenna’s fascinating project about Shetland’s links to the Norwegian resistance in World War II, The Shetland Bus. Rant provided a perfect opening set before their twelve youthful companions took to the stage. Taking part were:
Eoghan McManus, Euan McLaughlin, Imogen ReevesClaire Frances MacNeil, Claire Frances MacNeil, Madeline Cawthorn, Lewis McLaughlin, Andrew Ward, Niamh Doohan, Nuala McBride, Ruairidh Geddes, Jenny Smith and Bethany Walsh.
It’s those four-part arrangements that give Rant’s music its unique edge; and it’s that same aspect of their music that really brings 4/4, A Project for Projection to life. In preparation for the event, Rant’s twelve collaborators divided into groups of three, with each group shadowing one member of Rant, learning the individual pieces for the arrangements.
The 4:4 set opened with Rant’s celebration of East Church in Cromarty, the location of their first concert, and for the recording of their first album. It’s a gentle introduction for the project’s participants, and the gentle pace continues with Strathbogie Toast. Soon the truly beautiful sound of four parts over 16 fiddles fills the New Auditorium (opened last November) in Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, for a Perthshire Strathspey with a light tear in its eye. As all four fiddle elements come together, though, the pace picks up, and the tears turn to a joyful cascade as the set grows into a full bodied Neil Gow reel with no shortage of style. There’s plenty space, and talent, in the room for contemporary pieces too. The more complex, intoxicating rhythms of Ewan MacPherson‘s The Orca seem to hold no fear for the youngsters, and the concentration on their faces more and more frequently gives way to broad smiles.
Hjaltadans builds one section at a time to four delightful harmony parts, then back again, before A Happy Day in June opens with a gentle pizzicato. By the time we reach the intoxicating Wha’ll Dance Wi Wattie? it’s clear that no matter how complex the arrangement each group of three faithfully follows their mentor, and are at no time simply left to provide backing. Da Haa brought proceedings to a close; a Gaelic puirt à beul providing the raw material for a typically adventurous adaptation before a pair of reels leaves the audience not only with tapping feet but smiles just as broad as those on the faces of the players.
Saturday saw the premiere of 4:4, A Project for Projection. With more live dates and more detailed collaboration planned, it’s clear this is going to grow into an exciting and worth-while project. With support from Rant and the backing of Celtic Connections, these youngsters have achieved far more than learning a tune, they’ve shown their ability to take a tune on an adventure, and take their audience along with them.