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Traditional Scottish music society waltzes through lockdown with virtual recording

The Aberdeen Strathspey & Reel Society overcame technological battles to produce a record for posterity after meeting up on Zoom during lockdown.
The Aberdeen Strathspey & Reel Society overcame technological battles to produce a record for posterity after meeting up on Zoom during lockdown.

A traditional Scottish music orchestra that kept playing during the pandemic has released a lockdown recording.

The Aberdeen Strathspey and Reel Society overcame a “technological battle” to record a virtual performance for posterity.

Thirteen members of the society’s senior orchestra, including fiddlers, accordionists, double-bassists, and a pianist have spent the last few months meeting virtually on Zoom to put together two popular waltzes, Belle Mere and Kate Martin.

One even took part from as far afield as North Carolina in the US.

Released this week, the recording was mixed and produced by the society’s accompanist, Jonathan Wilson.

The society’s musical director, Ronnie Gibson, spoke of his pride at producing a record amid what he initially thought was a hopeless situation.

“It was such a blow when lockdown happened last March,” said Mr Gibson.

“I had just written off being able to continue playing and working together.

“But one of the members mentioned that he’d been using video conferencing at work, and that he didn’t see why we couldn’t carry on using that.

“It’s obviously an entirely different way of working, but we’ve made the most of it.

“It really has been great how it’s allowed us to stay together as a group, and I think the social aspect has been important.

“Our members range from teenagers to octogenarians, and it’s been hard for everyone.

“Quite a few of our members are elderly and have had to isolate, so that social element has been particularly important for them.

“For all of us, it’s given us something to look forward to every week, and the chance to share a good tune.”

He added: “We’ve had to reinvent entirely the way we play.

“In particular, synchronising everyone’s sounds when done remotely has been a challenge.

“Not being able to hear the rest of the orchestra when you’re playing your bit is certainly a different experience, and takes a bit of getting used to.

“Jonathan Wilson gave us a backing track, which at least allowed us all to play at the same speed.

“His technical wizardry allowed us to bring it all together.

“It has been a technological battle, but it really is wonderful to now have something to show for it.

“During recording, we could only hear ourselves and what we were playing, so it was only when we heard the finished record that we could all hear for the first time how it sounded together.

“That was a wonderful feeling.

“Of course, we’re all longing for the day to come when we can meet up physically and play together as an orchestra again.

“But in the meantime, to have produced a physical record of lockdown, for posterity, is something we’re all very proud over.”

The recording will be available by Friday on the Aberdeen Strathspey and Reel Society’s Facebook and YouTube channels.

With the society looking forward to returning to the concert stage when guidance permits, it continues to meet virtually in the meantime.

Members have recently enjoyed guest-led online workshops by fiddlers Paul Anderson and Mara Shea, with more planned for the summer.

The Aberdeen Strathspey and Reel Society was established in 1928 to encourage and preserve the heritage of Scottish fiddle music.

It maintains senior and junior orchestras that perform throughout the north-east.

The society was registered as a charity in 1952, and regularly makes donations to local good causes.

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