Jamie Laval in concert
When: 8:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Crimson Moon Cafe, 24 N. Park St., Dahlonega
Cost: $18 in advance, $20 at the door
Jamie Laval, U.S. National Scottish Fiddle Champion and touring Celtic music performer, has followed his passion for music throughout the United States, Canada, Scotland, Europe and even Hong Kong.
He has degrees from the Victoria Conservatory of Music and University of Victoria, both in British Columbia, Canada. His talent and achievements have taken him a long way throughout the years. Through hard work and networking, he has competed and achieved high honors. This honor has been recognized by national coverage on the “Today” show, as well as a performance before Queen Elizabeth II of England.
This Saturday, Laval will perform an “intimate concert of Celtic music and stories” at the Crimson Moon Cafe in Dahlonega. Admission is $18 in advance and $20 at the door.
The Times questions Laval about his music, the places it has taken him and what makes the Scottish fiddle so interesting.
Question: How does one become the U.S. National Scottish Fiddle Champion?
Answer: You enter, and you play good. The largest competition in the world for Scottish fiddling takes place in the United States. They have Scottish fiddle competitions in a lot of different countries besides just Scotland and the United States. It’s actually a very widespread style of music. Just happily, for me, I was already touring in Scottish music and had heard about this competition here, so I applied and won the regionals and went on to nationals. The first year I entered nationals I got second place and learned a lot about kind of what the judges were looking for. The second year I went in, I got first place. That was in 2002.
Q: How did you get interested in this type of music, and how do you combine music with different national backgrounds?
A: I was actually a professional classical player. People say, “Why did you switch to Scottish fiddling?” Well, I didn’t switch. I had always been doing fiddle music from really early on, but just kind of as a sideline, I described myself as a “closet fiddler” and a professional classical player.
I was making my living in symphony orchestras. I would dash out of the symphony hall, throw off my white tie and tails and throw on jeans and a T-shirt to charge off to the jam sessions.
I had this alter ego, which was as a fiddler.
I discovered fiddle music when I was a music student, and I was in the Rocky Mountains doing a summer performing job at the resort hotel. On the weekends, we could go out to the green hall or the barn dances and do contra dance or square dance, and that’s where I heard fiddle music for the first time. At first, I didn’t know I liked Scottish music, I just liked all fiddle music.
But then, later on, I began to understand there are different styles ... and I just have always responded to the Scottish sound.
Q: How long have you been playing the fiddle, and where has your musical performance career taken you?
A: I’m going to say 25 years. I’m not going to tell you my age, by the way.
Seattle is my home. I grew up in a small town near Seattle. That was basically where I hailed from. I actually went to school near Seattle, up in Canada because it was just a short ferry ride from Seattle to Victoria, British Columbia. So that is where I went to music conservatory.
The beauty of it is that I’ve gotten to travel quite a lot. I’ve been to Hong Kong. That was fascinating. I’ve been to Scotland, of course.
I’ve been to a number of countries throughout Europe performing and widely all over the U.S.
Now, (performing) is my only occupation. I’m full-time. I do about 100 shows per year. I’m my own booking agent, my own publicist, my own tour manager and my own accountant. I write my own arrangements using really old material ... and put them together for the band. So I’m kind of a band director.
Q: What was it like to be featured on NBC’s “Today” show and perform for the Queen?
A: The “Today” show happened when I was (performing) on the cruise ships, and they were broadcasting from the ship ... looking for some of the highlights of the entertainment life on the ships. They zeroed in on me and found me quite amusing in my kilt, I guess.
When I played for the Queen, that was special because the Queen happened to be in Victoria to open the Commonwealth Games.
They needed some form of entertainment for the Queen ... and they called up the conservatory where I had graduated. They mentioned my name, and I fit the bill because I was not too strictly classical.
I guess they liked me because I present very accessible music ... and I put on a very uplifting show.
Q: How do you try to connect with your audiences during your performances?
A: I feel even without my doing anything special with the show, the music itself is so infectious and so accessible that people of so many different genres really connect with the music.
But I’m interested in how to take it a step further and take the old material ... and giving it a new lease on life by the way it’s arranged and presented.
All of that informs the way I present the music, so it gives it a little bit of a fresh quality, a little more modern than just playing a traditional old fiddle tune. So it’s old, but it has a fresh new take that I think people really enjoy.
The final component of connecting with people is the stories and just showing some of my own personality, telling them about my experiences, telling them about the music I’m playing and what’s funny about it or what’s meaningful about it.
I have a lot of feedback after shows about how much people appreciate this personal side to the performing. People come away knowing me personally from the performance.
(The music is) culturally very important. I really feel that it’s touching people’s hearts.