There are always plenty of seasoned performers at BCMFest, but the festival also strongly believes in giving new, up-and-coming acts the opportunity to introduce themselves and their music to a wider audience. This year’s Emerging Artists Showcase will feature Liz & Dan Faiella , Audrey Budington & Clayton Clemetson and – making a return visit to BCMFest – Elizabeth & Ben Anderson. We asked the Andersons (who, like the Faiellas, are a brother-sister duo) to tell us a little about themselves.
Q: Individually, when and how did you start playing your respective instruments?
Elizabeth: I started Suzuki violin lessons when I was in second grade, and Ben started playing violin when he was five, two years after I started. I must have been scratching away at some minuet or other when Ben declared that he wanted to “make beautiful music like Lizzy” – I guess it’s the power of the older sibling! Ben didn’t actually start the cello until third grade, but the cello’s proven to come in handy. I started playing fiddle music when I went to my first session of Pinewoods dance camp in 2005 and met Hanneke Cassel, and then the following year we both went to Boston Harbor Scottish Fiddle School for the first time. Right now, I’m studying at Berklee College of Music with Darol Anger and Ben is a junior in high school, taking lessons with Eric Law.
Q: When and how did you begin to perform as a duo? Did one of you say, “Hey, let’s put an act together!” one day, or was it more gradual and organic than that?
Elizabeth: It was very gradual. I can’t even remember the first time we played together. But we slowly started playing out more and more. Back five years ago or so we did a segment in a Broadway-themed variety show where we arranged “Bonnie Jean” from the musical “Brigadoon” and then stuck some strathspeys after it. It was a really terrible arrangement, and Ben was just playing chords on the fiddle, but it got us thinking, “Hey, we could do this!” When you live together and both play instruments, it’s hard to prevent it from turning into something. A lot of our silly jams have turned into real arrangements; that’s just the way it’s worked for us!
Ben: I think our first major performance was when we played for a talent show in which we won second place. That, at least for me, was the first time I realized that we were good enough that it was worth taking it seriously.
Q: What are some of the important formative musical experiences you’ve had, individually or together, in Greater Boston/New England?
Elizabeth: Boston Harbor must have been the biggest one for both of us. It’s really an amazing experience to be immersed in music and in the Scottish fiddle community for an entire week. There’s an incredible staff every year of knowledgeable and passionate musicians, and it’s hard to avoid picking up their style and their passion. People ask us all the time how we learned fiddle, and I always say, “off of CDs and from fiddle camp!” We’re also long-time attendees of BCMFest and the New Hampshire Highland Games held at Loon Mountain. There’s such a vibrant Scottish music scene around Boston and we’re extremely grateful for it.
Q: The fiddle-cello dynamic is certainly a popular one in Celtic music nowadays: Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas, of course, and Hanneke Cassel with Mike Block/Ariel Friedman/Rushad Eggleston, among others. You’ve probably drawn a lot of inspiration from these folks, but do you feel your own sound and identity is emerging?
Elizabeth: We actually didn’t know about either of these performers when we started playing together. It was more out of convenience: I played fiddle and he played cello, so we played together. But we were quickly introduced to Alasdair, Natalie, Hanneke, etc.. We’ve both listened to them a lot and we no doubt have been influenced just from having their sounds in our ears, but I don’t think we’ve ever tried to emulate anything specific that either of these groups has done – except when we’re short material for a gig, and we straight-up lift arrangements.
I think that if there’s something that sets Ben and me apart it’s our arranging. Working in a two-instrument band really forces you to push the boundaries and come up with novel arrangements to keep it interesting. You don’t have much choice as far as texture goes and the cello doesn’t have the harmonic capacity of the piano or guitar. What we do have as our basis for expansion is rhythm and melody, which I think are really at the heart of dance music anyway. So we use a lot of ostinati, pedal points, and polyrhythms. We have also drawn inspiration from some innovative string players, like Darol Anger, my teacher at Berklee, and Mark Summer, the cellist in the Turtle Island String Quartet. There’s some real innovation going on in the string world, and we’re lucky that we have so many talented and inspiring musicians working right now who are constantly giving us new ideas and pushing us to new heights.
Q: There always seems to be an assumption that siblings have a “rivalry” of some kind. Like any brother and sister, you’ve probably had your bad times with one another, but clearly you have a good enough rapport to play music together. What makes it work for you?
Elizabeth: We both just love the music that we play. We both contribute to everything we do, from arranging to booking, so it’s a real team effort. It does streamline things, though, that I can still assert authority whenever there’s dissent! But in all seriousness, we’re both devoted to the music and to each other, and I think our parents are really proud that we’ve learned to share.
Ben: Everyone always asks us about why we get along together so well, and I always wonder why it’s such a surprise. We certainly have had arguments when first starting up, but we always try to work out all issues we have logically and rationally. We never have any reason to be in major disagreement over anything, and I think it’s great that we are able to cooperate so well.