When Georgia Broughton decided to learn the Scottish fiddle, she went straight to Scotland. This was the farthest she had ever traveled alone, and she did not know what to expect in an unfamiliar land.
Yet, once greeted by the angular landscape of the Scottish Highlands, it was clear to Broughton that she had to venture outside of her comfort zone to learn the music of her heritage.
In 2013, Broughton joined UCLA’s Irish Ensemble, where she learned how to play the Irish fiddle. One day while playing the Irish reel “Donald Blue,” Broughton recalled the ensemble director saying that her fiddling sounded Scottish instead of Irish.
Broughton said when playing the reel, she changed her bow more rapidly, giving heavy emphasis on particular beats that are more characteristic of the Scottish sound. She said her snappy rhythms departed from the sinuous fluidity of traditional Irish melodies.
“It made me think, well, if I am playing Scottish by default, by some instinct, maybe I should go learn Scottish music,” Broughton said.
Broughton, who is part Scottish, said she always wanted to explore traditional Scottish music. In July 2014, she traveled to the Isle of Skye, Scotland, where she attended Fiddle Week at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig College.
In many Scottish villages, the heritage of the Scottish fiddle is traditionally passed down from generation to generation. Children grow up listening to experienced musicians in their community and become accustomed to the traditional tunes. Once children are old enough to hold an instrument, learning the Scottish melodies come easily for them because of the early and repetitive exposure, Broughton said.
Broughton, who has received training in classical Western violin since she was 9, said learning the Scottish fiddle pushed her outside of her comfort zone. She said because Scottish music is taught by ear, learning the new melodies was intimidating as she was used to learning from sheet music in her classical Western violin training.
During Broughton’s first day at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig College, Alasdair Fraser, her main fiddle teacher, taught Broughton and her classmates to liberate their bows. Broughton explained this means figuratively liberating oneself from a rigid, classical Western prescription of how the violin can be played.
For Broughton, traveling to Scotland and learning the Scottish fiddle demonstrated diving into something that was completely new. She said her experience has transformed the way she plays the classical Western violin.
“Now that I have experience playing Scottish fiddle, I am more aware and liberated in my Western classical music too, so they both inform each other,” she said.