Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas are coming back to Qualicum Beach to play their traditional Scottish music for the 21st century on March 9, after a screening of a documentary on Fraser and his Celtic music camps on March 8. — Irene Young Photo

Celtic pair returning to Qualicum Beach with documentary

Fiddler Alasdair Fraser and cellist Natalie Haas perform March 9

When Natalie Haas joined one of Alasdair Fraser’s fiddling camps at age 11, she did so as her sister’s companion.

Her sister was actually the fiddle player, not Natalie. Natalie plays cello.

“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Natalie said, other than there being a cello class — rare at the time for a fiddle camp. “That’s why I went,” she said. What she found was “this amazing other world… that I had no idea existed, and I fell in love with Scottish music.”

Fast forward a few decades and it’s been nearly 20 years since Fraser and Haas began performing Celtic music together around the world.

“It’s been quite the journey,” Haas said. One of the next stops on that journey is Qualicum Beach. While it’s certainly not their first time performing in this community, it will be the first time they are screening the documentary about Fraser and his push to revive traditional Scottish music: The Groove is Not Trivial. It’s the first time the documentary will be screened in Canada, according to Joyce Beaton, who is hosting the event.

The screening of the award-winning documentary takes place March 8 after a workshop earlier that day, and a performance by Haas and Fraser follows March 9.

Haas is a product of Fraser’s work to share his passion and pass on his skills in Scottish traditional music.

He holds fiddle courses in California and Scotland.

Fraser and Haas’s emphasis with their music began with reviving the old Scottish duet of fiddle and cello, and then bring that into the 21st century, said Haas.

“A few years after I had been attending, he sort of took me aside one day, must have noticed me in a class from my playing, and said, ‘Hey, do you want to go try some of these old bass lines that are written down in these 18th century collections?’” recalls Haas.

“Cello was part of this historic dance band combination of fiddle and cello, (and) there was a record of something like what people might have played back in the 1800s for a bass line on the cello, so we took some of these collections which he had with him, and we went and sat underneath a redwood tree and started reading through some of these old tunes and bass lines.

“That was sort of the jumping-off point for seeing what the fiddle and cello could accomplish together,” she said.

In describing that 18th-century sound versus what the pair go for with their music now, Haas said that, in addition to using modern instruments and applying modern techniques, the cello’s part is made much more complicated.

“They were treating the cello then more as a bowed bass, playing very simple bass lines, kind of in a pretty straight rhythm. What I’m doing now is a lot more rhythmically complex, and I’m really trying to fill the role of the entire rhythm section of a modern combo, like bass and drums and piano maybe, or guitar.”

But bringing traditional Scottish music into the 21st century isn’t just about innovating on your own — it’s about getting others into the music as well.

The documentary describes how Fraser has sought to do that.

“It’s very much about not just his own growth, but how the camps have fostered cultural growth in Scotland, (and) trying to help people find their own voice.”

In the documentary, Fraser talks about the “cultural cringe” experienced in Scotland at expressing Scottish heritage.

From the front row seat Haas has had of this cultural change over the last 30 years, she said, “The cultural cringe, I think, is pretty much over. The traditional music scene is completely thriving in Scotland,” she said, with new music, new dances and new conversations being had.

Asked what excited Haas so much about Scottish music years ago, she said it’s the music itself — its ability to express the range of human emotion — “but also this amazing community of people that I discovered at the camp. This incredibly generous, non-judgmental, non-competitive community of people of all ages and backgrounds coming together just for their communal love of music and playing tunes until 3 o’clock in the morning, and all sorts of crazy antics.”

The March 8 workshop takes place at 4:30 p.m. at the Beaton residence in Qualicum Beach, with the documentary screening starting at 8 p.m. Cost is $40 for the workshop and $10 for the documentary, with tickets and location info available by contacting Joyce Beaton at 250-752-1162 or beatonqualicum@gmail.com.

The March 9 concert starts at 7:30 p.m. at Qualicum Baptist Church (600 Beach Rd. in Qualicum Beach) wit tickets costing $25. For tickets, contact Joyce Beaton at 250-752-1162 or beatonqualicum@gmail.com.

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