Capturing folk music visually: a study abroad experience in Scotland.
As I set down my rucksack behind a small table in the corner of a church-turned-pub, my new friend the bodran player yells over to me.
“And what’ll ye be havin’ te drink?” he asks in a thick Glaswegian brogue.
“An eighty schilling if they have it,” I call back while tuning my fiddle and then checking the settings on my digital camera.
This was my study abroad experience this past summer in Scotland: go to pubs, play fiddle, take pictures. And I got credit for it.
As part of my degree in photojournalism at Ohio University, I had the opportunity to participate in a month-long field school based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Because the program was a field school, I got a chance to really focus on documentary photography without being bogged down by jobs or other classes. This meant that I was able to focus on what I was truly interested in.
One of my assignments was an extended photo-documentary, to be worked on during the entire time I was there, with a subject of my choosing. Having picked up Celtic fiddle a little over two years ago and always having an interest in folk music, I took this opportunity to document traditional music in Scotland.
I didn’t limit myself in the subject and found it incredibly rewarding. Of course I saw bagpipes on every corner, but what helped me most was the connections I had from home. My club at home just outside of Chicago, Murphy Roche, put me in contact with some friends in Glasgow and it was a domino effect from there on out. I came to realize the intimacy of the traditional music world in Scotland. One session and connection in Glasgow led to suggestions of other sessions and more name dropping. With one contact, I feel like I met half the musicians in the country.
What affected me the most was the congeniality of the musicians I met there. I made friends at sessions who let me stay the night so I didn’t have to take a midnight bus back to Edinburgh, and I even made it up to Plockton on one occasion. Every session was an inspiration to me, both photographically and musically, and I realized how much I have to learn. Who knows, maybe I’ll make it back one day for the fiddle camp in Skye, but in the mean time I’ll just have to listen to the recordings I made while in the sessions, and reminisce on what I was able to capture of my experience visually.