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Interview with Alasdair Fraser Ahead of Return to the Stage with the Scottish Fiddlers

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On Celebrating Tradition and Innovation Ahead of Concert Return to Southern California

By Jody Gunn

In the rich tapestry of traditional music, few figures stand as prominently as Alasdair Fraser, the acclaimed Scottish fiddler, composer, and recording artist. With anticipation building for his return to Southern California alongside celebrated cellist Natalie Haas, where they will take the stage alongside the Scottish Fiddlers of Los Angeles in their 40th-anniversary concert on April 13th, I had a conversation with Alasdair where he reflects on the joy of playing music together, his partnership with Natalie Haas, how one becomes a good fiddler, and the ever-evolving landscape of traditional Scottish music that continues to resonate with audiences across time and space.

Jody Gunn (JG): What can the audience look forward to at the April 13th concert with the Scottish Fiddlers of Los Angeles?

Alasdair Fraser (AF): First and foremost, I always regard these events as celebrations. I’m very fortunate to play this music, to have been steeped in it all my life, Scottish fiddle music, or even just fiddle music in general. I’m a great lover of the fiddle and the dance and the energy and the kind of human emotions that are available, as a fiddle player and as someone who’s able to dig deep into tradition and then to share it on stage with a bunch of eager fellow musical explorers that I’ve known for many, many years, going way back to the 80s and many members of the Scottish Fiddlers of Los Angeles, in particular, Jan Tappan [current director of the Scottish Fiddlers of Los Angeles]. It will be a celebration of the joy of playing music together, of community, of tapping into these melodies that are potent.  They’ve been around, many of them for many, many years, and they’ve been relevant to various generations. Also, Natalie and I, we’re asking questions all the time. We’re saying, let’s not just play the old music, but also what now? It’s 2024, what are we saying today in traditional music with these instruments? It’s very, very alive. I’ll say it again, it’s very celebratory to me.

JG: You last played with the Scottish Fiddlers of Los Angeles in the 1980s. How does it feel coming back 40 years later?

AF: Well, it’s nostalgic.  It’s life-affirming too. Back in the ’80s, when, guess what, I was a much younger guy.  It was all, “what if?”  I love being in a what-if scenario. What if I take this music and I try and make it be my life and try playing with different people and asking different questions and different combinations? Back then when I was playing in the 80s with the Scottish Fiddlers of Los Angeles, it was because I loved the music. But at no point then would I have imagined that I would have been able to have an incredible career of playing with so many wonderful musicians and making so many recordings, and meeting amazing musicians in that crossover place where Scottish fiddle meets the rest of the world. It makes me think about that. It makes me think about the journey and the validity and the relevance of traditional music. I think it’s there for us. It’s there for people to express themselves. That was always my hope, we need more of that in this world. I can get very nostalgic and philosophical about it.

JG: What advice do you have for aspiring fiddle players?

AF:  I think it all comes down to follow your passion.  I’ve seen this time and time again where people, they get enthused, they hear music and then they say, I want to do that, I want to be in that, I want to be sharing that music. Asking what do I have to do to get to play? That’s what I love about traditional music, about the whole idea of the Scottish fiddlers group, like in Los Angeles and other places, like the fiddle camps that we run [Valley of the Moon, Sierra Fiddle Camp]. It’s an open invitation for people to say, hey, I can have a voice in this, I can express myself. Once you do that, if there’s something you want to play and you’re driven to do it because you love it, you will find ways to develop the technique.

I believe in technique as a means to a musical end. I’ve seen it work time and time again where people will overcome obstacles and they’ll practice and they’ll work and sure enough, you know what? It works. It especially works when you surround yourself with fellow explorers, people you can jam with and learn from and be inspired by. What I would say is follow your heart and follow your heroes, identify the people whose playing you love and go and hang out and copy them and learn what’s to be learned. It’s a joyful journey.

JG: What type of music or fiddlers do you listen to? Are there genres or artists outside of Scottish fiddle music that inspire you?

AF: Oh, lots. The more I have gotten into my own tradition, which would be Scottish fiddle music, of course, like everything else, the deeper you get in, the more you touch the universal.  You find that there are similarities in music all over the planet. People are investigating the same kinds of things, which is part of the thrill of playing this music.

At this point, I’m very much a musical traveler and I encourage people to be multilingual and encourage myself to be a multilingual traveler. I love Spanish music, Scandinavian music, I’d love to go to Eastern Europe and I’d love to go to explore Moorish rhythms, to the African continent. There are all kinds of seminal, exciting, influences that one can bring to bear. When you do that, you find, oh my gosh, there’s a relevance here to what I’m doing in my own Scottish fiddle playing.  That universal component is so important to me and we’ll tap into that in the April concert too.

Natalie Haas, my cello playing partner, and I, we love to explore musically many different types of genres and then kind of bring it back in to where we started, which is with the Scottish fiddle.

JG: How do you see Scottish fiddle playing evolving?

AF: The first thing I want to say is that it is evolving, which is good. It’s healthy for any traditional art form to be evolving. It has to be alive and examining itself and reinventing itself and learning from itself.

We go back to the old books. We go back to the old tunes in the 18th-century and we think, how were they dancing then? How were they playing? What were the circumstances? Then we say, what now? How does that change to fit this world that we live in? It’s a very dynamic environment. I’m happy to say that traditional music in general is very alive. I would say it’s healthy, it’s just a very exciting area to be in. Even back in Scotland, there’s lots of people, a lot of young people writing new tunes, trying new dance steps, trying new ideas on the dance floor, applying new forms, like new time signatures. We love the old stuff, but we’ve also got to say, what now? It’s an incredibly vibrant scene right now in Scottish traditional music.

JG: What inspired you to revive the dual fiddle and cello tradition? What’s your approach to incorporating both you on fiddle and Natalie on cello?

AF: Well, there is a precedent for it. In Scotland in the 18th century, well into the 19th century, the dance band of choice was a fiddle and a cello. It’s not a new idea. The fiddle and cello kind of were made for each other. They fit together and they balance each other out. I wanted to see if I could find a cellist who would go on that journey and along comes Natalie, which was an amazing thing.  It’s been 24 years now. It’s the idea of taking that idea that flourished in 18th century Scotland and saying, how do we make it speak today? We go back and we love playing the old tunes, but we’re also very much interested in new compositions these days, new ideas, as I mentioned earlier, and borrowing from other traditions.

Natalie learns from piano players and guitar players and other fiddle players. It’s a very, very exciting combination. It’s also very personal because with two people, you can have a very intense conversational exchange, which is the best thing, to be in the moment with someone where ideas are darting back and forth. You’re  responding in real time. It’s just a wonderful, wonderful gift, to create with it, to spend time and to make music. We both love it. We find that we keep having more to say, there’s more to do, which is fun. It’s exciting for your audience as well to watch this and hear this happen. I hope so.

JG: Tell me about your latest release Syzygy.

Syzygy, it’s a wonderful word. It’s a word that we love. It’s full of potential. It’s in all the sciences, it’s in philosophy, it’s basically to do with coming together, coming into alignment and that’s where we’re at. Natalie and I, we’re making new compositions with new ideas, hanging it on the framework of traditional music and taking it to where we’re at today.

We’ve both led musical lives, which have absorbed different influences and we’re both interested in the compositional process, or to put it in another way, we’re interested in making stuff up. I’m so thrilled about the idea of traditional music being alive, part of the tradition is to make up new tunes., Not even just new tunes, but new statements, emotional statements, pieces that reflect the world we live in today.

There’s been a cycle in our musical journey where we go back to the old well, as I like to say, and we drink deeply from it.  We play favorite old tunes from the 18th and 19th centuries from the classic Scottish tradition and then we ask, what are we saying now?

Natalie’s been writing lots of great tunes. Here she is, a young woman who grew up in California who adopted the Scottish tradition and has a very inventive voice in that. It’s thrilling to see that come alive. It’s about the old and the new and ultimately about asking questions with instruments in hand.

JG: Are there any specific tracks or musical techniques on Syzygy that you want to highlight?

AF: One specific technique in our journey with Natalie on the cello is the advent of this technique on string instruments called chopping. This is a pretty amazing thing because, 50 years ago, 60 years ago, 100 years ago, there was no chopping. In the string world, for a new technique to come along, it only happens about once every millennium. Here we are in our lifetime, we have this technique which enables Natalie in particular to be able to turn the cello into a very rhythmic element and it becomes a more of a rhythm section. She’s very, very advanced in this technique, very complex rhythmically. She has this percussive technique that enables a lot of energy to fly off her cello in ways that just were not possible beforehand. We don’t use it a lot, but we use it enough to reshape the sound palette that we have available to us.

JG: After Syzygy , what comes next? What new areas are you exploring or going back to?

AF: We’ve written all the tracks for the next album. We just have to find time to get in the studio.  We’re excited about a whole bunch of new pieces along this same trajectory with Natalie coming more and more to the fore as a creator. That’s part of the journey. When Natalie and I first started playing together 20 whatever years ago, she didn’t make tunes, she didn’t write tunes. She was very happy just to play.  It’s part of that evolution that happens as you get excited about something and you get inspired. As you get excited, you begin to say, what can I say here? I’ve been given a voice, I’ve been given the language and a palette. How do I use it? Natalie flourishes in so many areas, playing-wise and compositionally and just soars.  I wish that for everyone who gets involved in music to find a little place where they can say what they want to say. What a beautiful thing that is.

JG: Any final thoughts?

AF: It’s very meaningful for me to come back to this, to the Scottish Fiddlers of Los Angeles and to that community. It was a community that was very supportive of me when I first arrived in this country in the 80s. I used to come down and teach in Pasadena. We used to just get involved with seeing what can we do with this fiddle. I think of Jan Tappan, the current leader and I think about her precursor, Colin Gordon, who used to lead the Scottish Fiddlers of Los Angeles all these years ago. What a wonderful guy and a shout out to him as a founder of the Scottish Fiddlers of Los Angeles. I think of many, many, many wonderful times and great parties and good laughs. I hope to revisit some of these times in a few weeks.


Jody Gunn is a member of the Scottish Fiddlers of Los Angeles and plays with a number of local fiddle groups in Southern California and Nova Scotia.


Tickets for the April 13 concert:

Alasdair Fraser website:

Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas website:

Scottish Fiddlers of Los Angeles website:

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Apr 6
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