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Volume 24, Number 5 — May 2017

Mother & son lead Celtic music program

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | February 23, 2016

The musical component of the Celtic Studies program at East Tennessee State University is taught by the mother-son team of Will MacMorran and Jane MacMorran.

About Jane MacMorran
Jane MacMorran, a United States Scottish fiddling champion, began playing the violin when she was 9. "Old for a Suzuki student," she says. "I think music is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give to a child, so I am very appreciative of all those trips my mother made taking me to lessons and concerts. Music is part of who I am and what I do every day. I wouldn't be me without it."

She began her musical career in the classical genre and served as concertmaster of the Symphony of the Mountains for two decades.

"I still play and teach both classical violin and Celtic fiddle and would hate to be forced to choose between them. At ETSU, I teach Celtic fiddling in bluegrass, old-time and country music studies, and also teach classical violin students in the department of music.
"I have been interested in Scottish music for most of my life and began to work at playing Scottish fiddle tunes way back in the 1980s primarily because of my heritage and the fact that I married into a family that actively honored their Scottish heritage — especially with music.

"There was a time when I was teaching 55 Suzuki students every week and serving as concertmaster of Symphony of the Mountains and experienced some real burn-out to the point of not being excited about playing anymore. A friend suggested I attend the Jink & Diddle School of Scottish Fiddling with her which was the last thing I wanted to do but the experience of playing Scottish fiddle music made me fall in love with the instrument all over again." She now teaches at Jink & Diddle.

She says that the two types of music influence each other. "Classical technique is very useful for Scottish fiddling, and classical music greatly influenced the 18th-century canon of Scottish fiddle music. So, many of the skills I had as a classical violinist apply to Scottish fiddling.

Her influences are her teachers, especially Suzuki teacher William Starr. Others include Dr. Shinichi Suzuki at the Talent Education Institute in Matsumoto, Japan, John Turner from Jink & Diddle School of Scottish Fiddling and fiddlers in Scotland. In fact, a former teacher is the subject of her Ph. D dissertation

"When I was on the competition circuit I came to know Ron Gonnella, who came over from Scotland to adjudicate the United States National competitions, and I traveled to Scotland in subsequent summers to study with him. This continued up until his death in 1996. I am currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and Gonnella's legacy is actually the topic of my PhD thesis.

"Spending time in Scotland and Ireland has been really important in developing an understanding of the music I play. This past summer I made my 25th trip to Scotland.

While some people might not enjoy working with family members, she says it's a wonderful experience to work with her son, Will. "He has so many varied musical experiences, and he brings that experience and expertise to students at ETSU. It's fun to just step back and take it all in."

About Will MacMorran

Will MacMorran, lecturer in the Appalachian Studies department, provides individual instruction in Celtic guitar, tenor banjo, accordion, pipes and whistles.

He grew up with traditional music and listened to Celtic music, Irish guitarists and pop music. He's also toured with pop country acts. He plays Highland bagpipes, uilleann bagpipes, button accordion, whistles, tenor banjo, guitar and bouzouki.

"In regard to Celtic music itself, one of my favorite aspects is the way common musical ground can be found on such a wide array of traditionally accepted instruments. In Celtic music today we see wind instruments such as the flute and whistle; reed instruments such as bagpipes; free reed instruments such as accordions, melodeons and concertinas; string instruments like the banjo, guitar, bouzouki, fiddle, etc. Balancing the melodic nuances of tunes with the different quirks each instrument brings to the table provides lots of tonal combinations within Celtic music.

"Another beautiful part of the music for me is the way several individual tunes are often arranged into a longer set of music. Typically you'll be changing keys from tune to tune, and this can really add to the suspense and energy of the music," he says.

"I was very fortunate to grow up with music in the house. Both of my parents are accomplished musicians in their own right, and they were incredibly supportive of my musical endeavors. In high school, I spent most of my time practicing. I was able to tour many weekends playing music with a student Celtic band, and that group went on several tours to Scotland and provided a lot of valuable touring experience.

"I also attribute a lot of my success and career path to the guidance and opportunities that Bandy Brownlee provided me at Tennessee High School. Bandy is an accomplished recording engineer, and he understood that I was driven and put me straight into recording sessions and other musical environments. He even lent me some of his personal recording gear to get me started.

"I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in music and/or audio engineering, and I made the decision to attend Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. I was fortunate to begin touring with Seven Nations my freshman year. I flew out most weekends for national headlining shows with Seven Nations, and I really thank Kirk McLeod (lead singer of Seven Nations) for working around my class schedule to provide the opportunity to make a majority of the shows. I've played with Seven Nations for 10 years.

"After graduation from Belmont I spent a few years touring full time before I made the decision to come back to East Tennessee to work on a master's degree. I had the opportunity to work as a graduate assistant in ETSU's Bluegrass, Old-Time, Country Music Studies program and am thrilled to now work at ETSU full time as a lecturer in the Appalachian Studies Department.

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Topics: Music



Will MacMorran