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Monadnock Center for History and Culture celebrates Scottish music

  • Lead fiddle for the Strathspey and Reel Society of New Hampshire, Bruce Cobb of Pittsfield, plays during one of the society's performances of traditional Scottish music.
  • Strathspey and Reel Society of New Hampshire Music Director Emeritus Sylvia Miskoe leads the group in concert.
  • The Strathspey and Reel Society's Music Director Emeritus Sylvia Miskoe sports tartan as she plays the accordion during a performance.
  • Strathspey and Reel Society fiddlers Marie Rawlings and Jennifer Bell play during one of the cociety's monthly's rehearsal at the Concord Community Music School in Concord.

Happy Tartan Day! Actually, the official
Tartan Day, which celebrates Scottish heritage was on April 1. But the Monadnock Center for History and Culture will be celebrating it a little late with an afternoon of Scottish music and history, presented by New Hampshire’s own Scottish music society.

When Peterborough was first settled, it had a large Scottish population. The Monadnock Center for History and Culture, formerly known as the Peterborough Historical Society, will be getting back to those roots with a selection of Scottish classical music presented by the Strathspey and Reel Society on Sunday afternoon.

“The music is just captivating,” said Mike Vose, the president of the society and an Epping resident . “Much of Scottish music is some of the most melodic and enjoyable in the whole Celtic genre. Fiddle players can wrench your heart and then have your feet tapping with a lively reel, and that’s just exciting stuff from my point of view.”

The Concord-based Strathspey and Reel Society, an open-membership society made up of a mix of amateur and professional musicians, has been around for 25 years now, playing music from the 200-year-long Scottish classical music canon. The group meets once a month, and every time they meet they pull three more songs into their repertoire — which now measures more than 1,000 songs, so every performance can be uniquely tailored.

For their performance in Bass Hall on Sunday, they’ll be adding a little flavor of history to their traditional set of music. While a small contingent of the society’s huge 125-member orchestra gives the audience a taste of traditional and folk tunes, they’ll also be presenting a little bit of the history of Scottish settlers, especially in the Monadnock region.

The society plays the whole gamut of the Scottish genre, too, from the slow airs to the lively jigs and reels. And while the group absolutely subscribes to the spirit of the music, they don’t always follow the letter of the tradition, Vose said.

The orchestra is open to all comers, even those that don’t play a traditional Scottish instrument. They have a strong fiddle core, which is traditional, but have had members that play everything from accordions, harps, guitars, woodwinds, whistles, flutes, a hammer dulcimer, banjo, spoons and bongos — some of which are definitely not traditional. But the eclectic nature of the group is just one of the things that sets it apart and makes it special, said Vose.

On the group’s two tours of Scotland in 1996 and 2006 , their take on the music was well-received, he said. “They really enjoyed the slightly different sound we generate with our instrumentation,” he said. “And many of our musicians are contra dance musicians — they infuse the Scottish music with a little more energy, with the same sensibility we bring to dance music. A lot of Scottish classical music is meant for dancing anyway, but it can be very formal. We bring some informality.”

Betsy Woodman of Andover, a member of the group , said it was that energy that first drew her to join the group. After attending one of the Strathspey and Reel Society’s concerts, she was hooked.

“It was lively warm concert. The kind of music where little kids get up and dance in the aisle,” she said. “And I was bouncing up and down in my seat, and wishing I could dance in the aisle, too.”

Woodman, a recorder player, said she was a little intimidated to join the group at first. But after reading in the program that the society is an open membership, she decided to go to a meeting and observe. She brought her recorder along, but said she only brought it inside because she was worried about leaving it in the cold — she wasn’t planning on playing it. But that didn’t last long, she said.

“Everyone was so nice and welcoming, and I just opened up the case and started playing,” Woodman said. “We joke that the entrance requirement is knowing how to get your instrument out of your case.”

The Strathspey and Reel Society of New Hampshire will be performing in Bass Hall on Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15 or $12 for center members, students or seniors. Tickets are available online at www.peterboroughhistory.org or at the door. To learn more about the Strathspey and Reel society, visit www.srsnh.org.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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