It’s a cold, grey autumnal Saturday in Aberdeen and I’m in my armchair by the fire, gazing out at the sky through a large, top floor window. My fairy lights are on, the room is snug from preparatory heating, and I’m full of oatmeal porridge, chosen as breakfast today for its soothing sustenance. I’ve promised I’ll write a blog post for NAFCo by Monday. I can see the outline of the article in my mind’s eye, but ask myself how to make it memorable, how to make it sing. Then I remember the high school English advice from Mr Campbell which has yet to fail me. Write what you know.
We’re a community of creators. Each of us has experienced sitting in readiness, watchful, awaiting the muse. I’m fascinated by how we achieve the ends we do from these shared beginnings. How we channel myriad inputs into discrete pieces of new work which are catapulted into the world to find their audience. You’re reading this because you’re curious and creative, consciously or otherwise. Whether a performer, a writer or an audience member, you’ve sought out this space inhabited by our shared interests and you’re part of its development. What’s brilliant about NAFCo is that artists, academics and enthusiasts are in conversation together about fiddle and dance from around the North Atlantic. This isn’t irrelevant, ivory tower gobbledygook, but the stuff of concerts, sessions, busking and pub chat. It’s living, breathing culture which is always on the move.
So how do we ensure that our beloved scene remains vibrant and enticing? To keep it real, I’ll tell my story. I like nothing better than creating new songs, but that’s something which I learned comparatively recently. Despite playing Shetland fiddle for thirty years, it was only in 2010 that I found a musical vocation of my own. The notion came to me unbidden in the sunny month of May when a friend told of a ring which had newly washed ashore on a Shetland beach. That story formed the basis of my first song, Rough Diamond, and signposted the path to material I’ve since felt driven to create. Shetland’s history is obvious subject matter, having grown up immersed in local books and knowledge. Layer on a career in broadcasting, and storytelling became key, then a passion for women’s perspectives inherited from a family of matriarchs. So here I am on this satisfyingly dull autumn today, writing songs for my first solo album to be released in 2018. In front of me is a coffee table stacked with books, a computer stuffed with museum photos, and a mobile phone peppered with notes from self taken to thought-provoking conversations. Taking a fork in my musical road and then committing to deliver in a new sphere was all it took for me to feel excited and productive again. Now I have fresh offerings to give back to the musical world which has gifted me more delight than I could repay in a lifetime.
The moral of this story, then, my thoughts on creating? Spend time with your kin. Get up, dress up and show up. Absorb every tune, song, story, exchange and perspective. Let them seep into you and become your marrow. Then give yourself over to your vocation when it comes calling. Stay open, stay present and hope that your output might outlive you.
Claire White is an award-winning Shetland fiddler and singer-songwriter. She is a student of the late Dr Tom Anderson and has been performing and teaching internationally for 25 years. Claire is currently Co-Curator of Fiddle Frenzy, Shetland Arts’ annual celebration of the islands’ music tradition, and performs with Blyde Lasses, Danse McCabre and Jingbang.
You can read more about Shetland, songwriting and creating on Claire’s website… http://claireelizabethwhite.tumblr.com