Shetland’s fiddle tradition in safe hands

An extremely happy Jodie Smith after being judged Shetland's Young Fiddler of the Year, aged just 13. All photos Valerie Watt

THE SHETLAND Young Fiddler of the Year 2016 award has gone to 13 year old Jodie Smith after two days of fierce competition in Mareel, involving 111 fiddlers and an astonishing 271 tunes memorised and played through the course of the contest. Alex Garrick-Wright witnessed the whole thing.

Jodie, who attends Sandwick Junior High School, was presented with the new Frank Jamieson Memorial Trophy for coming first in the young fiddler open category.

Impressively, not only did Jodie go home as Young Fiddler of the Year 2016, but also scooped the Fiddler’s Society cup for winning the traditional open, and the Folk Society trophy.

The contest was judged by three accomplished and experienced Shetland fiddlers – Claire White, one of the curators of this year’s Fiddle Frenzy, Catriona McDonald, senior lecturer in music at the University of Newcastle, and Iain Williamson, of the David Halcrow Dance Band and Hjaltibonhoga, who was a newcomer to the panel.

The level of talent was extremely high, and Jodie faced stiff competition from the other finalists Chyan Davidson, Jasmin Smith, Laura Newbold, Ming Sandford and George Spence, of Baltasound Junior High School, who came second in both young fiddler and traditional open categories.

George deserves special mention for playing so well after the nerve-wracking experience of his fiddle’s string slipping, derailing his performance.

A murmur of consternation spread through the audience as it became apparent that the problem was the fiddle and not the fiddler.

George stood undeterred as his fiddle was hastily re-tuned on stage, before being invited by the sympathetic judges to begin his piece again.

Jodie with judges (from left) Claire White, Iain Williamson and Catriona MacDonald.

Any performer would have been forgiven for losing their nerve after that setback, but George launched right back into it, not missing a note, and was rewarded with some of the best applause of the night for his mettle.

Ming Sandford came away with the Martin Laurenson Memorial trophy for best played slow air and Callum Leask nabbed the ‘Cat Gut and Ivory’ trophy (which isn’t as macabre as it sounds).

The winner of the intermediate young fiddler was Anya Johnston, and the traditional intermediate award went to multi-talented Emma Leask who also came up with the design for the contest’s logo.

The junior categories were also packed with talent – 37 entries in total, with a number of six and seven year old fiddlers in the contest.

The young fiddler junior award went to Emily Laurenson and the traditional junior award to Ashley Hay.

The judges applauded the “amazing” quality of the entries that they’d seen over the two-day long contest, with Claire White saying that it was good to see “folk sticking with their own voice musically”.

However, the judges expressed their disappointment that, despite the dozens of entries to the other categories, there were a mere six entries to the traditional open category.

Iain Williamson said: “We have to mind where our Shetland fiddling came from,” and that hopefully next year there would be more fiddlers playing traditional Shetland tunes.

As usual, the Young Fiddler of the Year wasn’t all about who won what, but about celebrating and expanding the repertoire of Shetland fiddle tunes.

The winners, their trophies and the judges gather at the end of the evening.

The YFOTY Tune Collection was formally launched, containing the winning compositions of junior and senior categories of the last three years.

Judges Violet Tulloch, Bryan Gear and Debbie Scott had played through every single entry to pick the very best contemporary Shetland fiddle compositions for inclusion in the collection.

The junior winner was 10 year old Victoria Byrne McCombie, for her jaunty march, and Jenny Henry was awarded the senior category win for her catchy reel ‘Uncle Lolly’s Shining Silver’.

The special prize of best reel in the Shetland style was given to Steven Spence.

The audience were extremely receptive and enthusiastic from the first note to the last, giving each and every performer the warm reception and ecstatic applause that they fully deserved.

The level of playing was beyond reproachk, as was the confidence and stagemanship of even the youngest of junior entrants.

Saturday night’s grand finale to a two-day celebration of Shetland musical achievement was not just about picking the best tunes or players, or the awarding of silverware; it was about securing the future of traditional music in the isles, and the next generation of fiddle players to keep it going.

Looks like it’s in safe hands.

Alex Garrick-Wright

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