Review: 'Scottish Rant' moves, inspires

The unmistakable sound of the bagpipes announced the arrival of The City of Washington Pipe Band to begin Scottish Rant Friday night at the Lied Center. Their entrance through the house in full Scottish regalia delighted the audience. Members of the pipe band were joined by the Bonnie Rideout Trio: Bryan Aspey, guitar; Matthew Bell, percussion; and Bonnie Rideout, three-time U.S. Scottish fiddle champion.

The music was a mix of traditional pipe and fiddle reels, laments and Scottish folk music -- some with long traditions, others composed by contemporary pipers and fiddlers or Rideout herself. The Rideout Trio and the pipe band performed as solo ensembles and collaborated on several numbers.

The presence of the pipe band was particularly significant since Rideout's fiddle style is almost a paean to the pipes. The historical connection between the Scottish fiddle and the bagpipe dates to the mid-18th-century English ban on the playing of the pipes and the wearing of the tartan. Pipers began playing the fiddle to keep traditional music alive.

At times, Rideout's instrument seemed transformed as she imitated the sound of bagpipes. The seamless transference of sound from fiddle to pipe and back again occurred particularly in "Dunblane," a song written in memory of the murdered school children of Dunblane, Scotland. Written by Charlie Glendinning of the pipe band, the haunting tune moved back and forth from Rideout's fiddle to a single bagpipe revealing the depth of emotion possible by the blend of the string and wind instruments. After a moment of silence, the trio and pipe band segued into an astonishing performance of "Amazing Grace."

"Dunblane" was one of several laments on the program; however, Rideout clearly wished to show the range of emotional possibilities in traditional folk music. Rideout is an exuberant performer whose deep love of Scottish music and heritage pours out of her body with every step and flows like liquid fire from the fiddle as she plays. She has a deep desire to connect with the audience, to help it appreciate the intellectual and emotional range of her repertoire.

The formal presence of the pipe band complemented Rideout's physical and energetic style. A highlight was the featured performance of the pipe band's drum corps. Margaret Rogers on the tenor drum twirled her mallets around and above her head in an intricate blur of movement, never breaking the rhythm or missing a beat. Then the snare drum players, Harry Meade and Jon Quigg joined by Matthew Bell, gave a spellbinding performance of precision drumming.

According to the Concise Scots Dictionary, a rant is an evening of "boisterous or riotous merry-making." The Lied Center performance was certainly that and much more. The pipe band strode out through the house, ending the evening as it had begun, and all the performers generously greeted the audience in the lobby.

Scottish Rant was a celebration of the power of music to move and inspire no matter what its cultural origins.

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