One of the unique features of the Vermont Fiddle Orchestra is that it equally attracts both professional and amateur musicians.
Based in Montpelier, the community orchestra open to all levels and ages of players has been around for more than 15 years. No audition is required, and the 40 or so members who meet regularly to rehearse span generations as well as experience.
Under the guidance of Music Director David Kaynor, the ensemble will be performing its winter concert at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, at the City Hall Arts Center (Lost Nation Theater) in Montpelier. Special guest artist is Peter Macfarlane, who falls decidedly on the professional side of the spectrum.
Macfarlane’s name will be familiar to fans of the longtime Vermont band Atlantic Crossing, for which he has played fiddle, among other instruments, for the last 20 years.
“The guest artist at a VFO concert has two roles,” Macfarlane said by email recently from the United Kingdom, “to play some solo pieces, and to select some tunes to work up with the orchestra.”
His specialty? Celtic music from the British Isles, a love that came a little bit later in life.
“Not until I went to university and took up Scottish dancing did I discover a whole world of music that spoke to me,” Macfarlane said. “I had played classical violin through high school, reasonably competently but never really understanding what I was playing, but now I had found a type of music that made me want to play.”
“Because my first musical love is Scottish music, I have selected a range of Scottish tunes, put them together in sets, choosing tunes which are fairly accessible to a wide range of playing abilities, and arranging them to feature some of the different instruments in the orchestra,” he added. “I have also tried to select tunes which illustrate some of the diversity of Scottish music.”
Macfarlane is a UK ex-pat, having relocated to Vermont many years ago to join Atlantic Crossing, and has since produced two solo recordings of original Scottish dance music and original waltzes, and published two volumes of his own compositions.
“My own compositions come about in a variety of ways,” he said. “Sometimes I am just noodling on an instrument and a phrase emerges and grows. Sometimes a tune forms in my head with no instrument. Occasionally a tune is commissioned, and the type of tune and its character are specified.
“There follows a period of reflection to see if the tune stands the test of time, as well as seeing if I have plagiarized someone else’s tune (or even one of my own). If it passes, it’s ready for trialing on others.”
But playing in a full-time band and guesting in a community orchestra such as the VFO he says are “totally different kettles of fish.”
“In a small band, such as Atlantic Crossing, we are concerned with creativity, interaction, developing material for different purposes, material which best displays our instrumentation,” Macfarlane said. “For a community orchestra, a large criterion is inclusiveness: the selection and arrangement of the music must enable participation by all. Furthermore, not all tunes sound good played en masse, so care in selection is essential.”