Countdown to BCMFest 2018: Scottish music — Q&A with Susie Petrov

Another in a series of features about BCMFest 2018 that will be appearing in this blog right up until the festival (January 18-21), so as to better acquaint you with the events, activities and personalities that make up BCMFest, which is marking its 15th anniversary.

Susie Petrov has been a mainstay of Boston’s — heck, New England’s — Scottish music scene for decades now, as a brilliant musician on piano and accordion,  a top-notch arranger of tunes, and a teacher of Scottish country dance. She’s played at weddings, ceilidhs, Burns Nights, Highland Games events, various concerts and festivals, and of course, at BCMFest; Susie also served on the BCMFest organizing committee during the festival’s early years.

Susie Petrov with accordion and ready smile.

In recent years, Susie’s teamed up with fiddler Calum Pasqua and piper Dan Houghton as the trio Parcel of Rogues. BCMFest 2018 will see Susie and Calum in a new collaboration, and she talked about it — and about Scottish music in general — with us recently.

Q: When they hear the phrase “Scottish music,” a lot of people might tend to think of bagpipes (lots of them) playing all kinds of big, noisy reels, jigs, marches, etc. But the style you and Calum play has a different feel to it — kind of classical in a way. So where does this brand of Scottish music come from?

SUSIE: Calum and I both spent many years training as classical musicians.  We like to think that music is music.  No matter what the tradition from which it springs, it must be played as beautifully as possible.  We are also passionate about the quality of ensemble playing when we play together.  This year, we are excited to present a new collaboration where I get to play with Calum’s New York band, New York Brogue. Our show will feature one duo set for Calum and myself flanked by two ensemble pieces.  In the first piece, Calum will show off his recent work on the tenor banjo!

Q: How did you get turned onto playing Scottish music?

SUSIE: My friends founded a local Scottish Country Dance group in Washington, DC, when we were in high school.  I thought it was the most stupid activity imaginable and they finally dragged me to a dance the summer after our junior year.  I was hooked on the music on the first night.  All the dance groups used recordings and would hire a band from Toronto once a year for the annual ball.  When I heard the piano playing of Stan Hamilton (an immigrant from Ayr in Scotland), it blew my mind and I had to find tunes to play.  There were no fiddle camps in those days and the only source of music was the Library of Congress.  Thomas Jefferson’s original bequest contained some first editions of Scottish tune collections.  While studying at the Peabody Conservatory, I would play tunes behind closed doors.

Q: When and how did you Calum start playing together? 

SUSIE: I first heard Calum play at a Scottish dance weekend when he was 7.  As a teenager, I heard him play with Stan Hamilton.  Much later, we were having a session at Juilliard when Natalie Haas was a student there and he came out to play.  Then, he went to fiddle camp and competed in the US National Fiddle Championship at the Loon Mountain Games, where I happened to be sitting in the audience.  He played most beautifully and when I met him in the hallway, I introduced myself and he mentioned he was looking for a pianist.  We commuted between Boston and New York for our rehearsals and went on to be the first Americans to play the winning set in the 2008 Glenfiddich Invitational Fiddle Champoinship at Blair Castle in Scotland.

We are still most proud of our recordings, “In Conversation” and “That Pinewoods Sound.”

Q: As a former BCMFest organizing committee member, you have a unique perspective on the festival. What impact do you think it’s had on the area’s Celtic music community?

SUSIE: I am thrilled to be able to come back and enjoy the fruits of all our BCMFest committee members’ hard work.  I think the festival works hard to present the music made by seasoned concert performers and by session players who create a community of folks who gather to play together in homes and pubs.  I am also pleased to see the opportunities the festival creates for emerging artists and ensembles.  I haven’t been able to attend recent editions of BCMFest, so I am looking forward to seeing the new venues and enjoying the people who will be both performers and audience members.

Schedules, ticket information and other details about BCMFest are available here.

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