Fiddle bound for National Museums tested out by cream of local talent

Ewen busy in his workshop. Click on image to enlarge.
Ewen busy in his workshop. Click on image to enlarge.

A fiddle created for the National Museum of Scotland by local luthier Ewen Thomson was showcased by some of Shetland’s finest musical talent on Thursday at a free concert in the Museum and Archives boat hall.

The event was introduced by assistant curator of ethnomusology at the National Museums Scotland, Susan Landowski, who thanked the museum for hosting the event and providing a stunning setting for the performance.

First up to perform was Young Fiddler of the Year for 2008 Maggie Adamson, who plays a Ewen Thomson fiddle herself and who played two rousing sets. She was followed by Ryan Stevenson, who won the traditional section of the competition that year. Current Young Fiddler of the Year Chapman Cheng also played, as did former winners Danny Garrick, Ryan Couper and Kaela Jamieson.

Miss Jamieson, a fifth year pupil at the Anderson High School, won the Traditional Young Fiddler of the Year in 2007. She played the beautiful slow air slow air Aald Noost, written by Robert Jamieson, and a set of reels, the Fully Rigged Ship and the New Rigged Ship.

She said of Ewen’s fiddle: “It’s lovely, it’s got a really lovely sound and nice tone to it.”

The free performance was the only chance for Shetlanders to hear the instrument before it is sent to Edinburgh, where it will be displayed in the Royal Museum, which is currently undergoing renovations and will reopen in 2011.

The £46 million project will see the gallery transformed into a “21st century museum experience” and will feature 16 new galleries, including one dedicated to Performance and Lives, where the Shetland fiddle will be displayed as part of Scotland’s musical heritage.

Mr Thomson was commissioned by the National Museum in April, which he said came as “a bit of a shock to him”.

He said: “I’m absolutely flattered to have been asked to do it, it’s a huge honour to make a fiddle for a museum.

“When the lady – the assistant curator at the time – called and asked if I would consider making a fiddle I asked how they had come to me and she said my name just kept coming up when they were looking into it. It was a bit of a shock.”

Originally from Fair Isle, Mr Thomson currently works from his workshop at home in Channerwick.

He became the youngest student ever to be accepted into the Newark School of Violin Making in Lincoln at the age of 16 before returning to Shetland in 1991 to set up his own business making and restoring fiddles, violins and cellos. A musician himself, he has played with various bands, most recently Fullsceilidh Spelemannslag.

Mr Thomson’s fiddles are much sought after both in Shetland and throughout the world, with many respected musicians favouring them.

The specification from the National Museum was for a traditional fiddle, and the instrument is typical of the others that Ewen builds.

He said: “They just wanted me to do what I do. I’ve gone for a modern varnish, as I do a lot of distressed or antiqued finishes.”

Making a fiddle will typically take Mr Thomson eight weeks from start to finish, though getting the commission in April meant he had a bit of time to play with: “It only really takes a couple of months to complete an instrument, so I knew I had quite a lot of time.”

Ms Lewandowski said: “We are thrilled to have one of Ewen’s fiddles in the national collections. His work is held in high esteem by some of Scotland’s finest musicians.

“This commission represents a fantastic opportunity to capture just one strand of a vibrant contemporary music scene which has roots imbedded in a rich and long-reaching tradition.”

Mr Thomson said he hopes to travel visit the exhibition when it is complete. He said: “I can’t quite believe that my fiddle is to be displayed in the National Museums of Scotland. I’m delighted that Shetland’s musical tradition will be represented in the new gallery and hope that millions of visitors from home and abroad will enjoy seeing it.”


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