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Five questions with Jamie Laval, an award-winning fiddler
Jamie Laval plays Saturday at The Crimson Moon in Dahlonega.

Jamie Laval's Scottish Christmas Concert

When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Crimson Moon, 24 N. Park St., Dahlonega
How much: $14 in advance, $16 at the door
More info: 706-864-3982

On Saturday, The Crimson Moon in Dahlonega will host Jamie Laval, an acclaimed fiddler, who will be performing a special Celtic-themed Christmas concert.

This isn't the first time Laval has performed in Dahlonega, but this visit will be unique in that it will showcase music from western Europe and the British Isles that was created for Christmas.

Laval, who now lives in Asheville, N.C., won the U.S. National Scottish Fiddle Championship in 2002 and since then has been playing more than 120 gigs each year, touring the United States and Europe. We spoke with him about his love of fiddling, the accessibility of his music and finding a "treasure trove" of traditional Christmas songs.

Question: It seems like you're on the road a lot; do you do much of your touring around the Southeast? Or do you go international, too?

Answer: So far I've toured only in the U.S. and Scotland. Eventually I would love to expand to other European countries, but the economic times are not conducive to start too many new ventures without any backing.

My engagements in the Southeast states have increased exponentially since moving to Asheville, thanks in large part to the added exposure I've gotten by teaching and performing annually at the Swannanoa Gathering, a celebrated symposium for traditional arts and music, held at Warren Wilson College. I still keep my regular engagements on the West Coast active, which means I've been zig-zagging across the country at least four times a year.

Q: Where is the most unique place you've performed a fiddling concert?

A: On a stage next to the Hog House at the West Virginia State Fair. Before that, I'd have to say the lieutenant governor's mansion in Victoria, Canada. Oh — Bill Gate's house. Now THAT made for a bit of a change!

Q: It seems like your music is pretty accessible to all different levels of fiddle fans. What is it about the music that makes it so?

A: The vigorous rhythms and wide range of emotion makes Celtic music remarkably universal. No matter where I perform, people remark that they never knew there was such diversity in this style — they often tell me about some teenager they know, or some classical music buff, who would have loved to hear the music. If only they had attended!

And it's not just fiddle fans that make up my audiences, it's a very broad cross section of tastes. Unfortunately, "fiddle" can sometimes be a curse; that word can have a misleading connotation to some listeners who would otherwise almost surely love the music if they only knew enough to give Celtic music a try.

Q: What made you switch from violin to fiddle playing?

A: I'm able to communicate my sentiments and passions more sincerely and directly through Celtic music than I was in a classical context. The immediacy of the feelings being expressed is utterly engaging — for me as a player and for the many who come to listen.

I was a professional symphony musician while secretly carrying on a parallel life as a "closet fiddler." By combining my work ethic and a modicum of talent I was able to achieve a respectable success in classical music, but I always felt limited. For one thing, I love a great groove — you know, the infectious kind of rhythm that makes people itch to dance. Classical music isn't about groove; the rhythm is more implied than manifested. Moreover, I've always been compelled to digest and then re-interpret a musical idea, to render a favorite old fiddle tune with my own style, if necessary even rewriting some of it to give it more impact.

Q: Have you been playing Christmas songs in recent concerts, or is this Crimson Moon show something different from what you've been doing lately?

A: This is a new venture for me and I'm excited about it. For a long time I was reticent to do a holiday-oriented show because I felt that the commercial aspect of American Christmas wasn't consistent with traditional folk values of the Celtic culture, to which my music belongs. But recently I have come to realize that there is a treasure trove of traditional music from the British Isles and western Europe that survives today, much of it celebrating not only the popular Christian holiday but midwinter solstice, Saternalia, Yule and other holidays.

Put into an historical context, this roots-based tradition has given me a new perspective on the loveliness of the holiday season and I'm pleased to participate in the festivities by offering something musically uplifting.