Many music listeners may view classical music as the antithesis of folk music. But for violinist Maura Scanlin MUS ’19, both classical violin and traditional Irish and Scottish fiddle are her passions.
This year, Scanlin has used her training in both genres to record albums for her two folk music bands, Pumpkin Bread and Rakish. Pumpkin Bread’s second album was recorded this August, and will be released in March of 2019.
“I’ve found a lot of fun parallels, especially between baroque music and fiddle music,” Scanlin said. “For example, at its core, a lot of Baroque music and a lot of fiddle music are for dancing.”
Scanlin began playing violin at the age of three in her small Appalachian hometown in North Carolina, studying classical violin with the Suzuki method, a popular training program for beginners. Once she gained control of her instrument, she branched out to form a small fiddle band with two of her closest childhood friends.
During high school, Scanlin focused less on fiddle music. Yet her affinity for the genre rekindled when she moved to Boston for her undergraduate studies at the New England Conservatory. According to Scanlin, Boston is an ideal city for playing and performing traditional Irish and Scottish music. While in Boston, Scanlin started playing in “sessions” — informal folk jams held in bars or restaurants. Through these sessions, Scanlin met peers from other universities also well-versed in the genre. They developed strong friendships that ultimately resulted in Scanlin’s two current folk music projects.
Pumpkin Bread is an experimental group that Scanlin described as “an amalgamation of many different styles” that derive from the diverse musical backgrounds of the band’s members. The band performs original instrumental and vocal compositions.
Jackson Clawson, a pianist and accordion player for Pumpkin Bread, said that he grew up playing funk, soul, jazz and gospel music.
“There’s a surprising amount of overlap between contemporary Celtic folk music and jazz,” Clawson said. “At the core, I think the way Maura and I feel music is often similar, and we’re able to listen to each other’s playing to bring those similarities out.”
Clawson said that the duo’s writing process often involves “[trading] fragments and phrases until a tune develops.” He commended Scanlin for her “endless ideas” and noted that “the tricky part is often remembering what she just played.”
Scanlin’s other folk music collaboration, Rakish, was developed with Conor Hearn, Pumpkin Bread’s guitarist. Rakish is a duo that performs more traditional Irish and Scottish repertoire.
Hearn said that he initially bonded with Scanlin over their mutual affinity for slow tunes, which undermine the stereotype that fiddle music is rowdy.
“I’ve learned that [Scanlin] has this distinct sense of melodic variation,” Hearn said. “There are certain things that she plays that when you hear them, you just know it’s her playing, which can be a hard thing to achieve in a musical community where a lot of stylistic development comes from listening to these older recordings of players from a generation or two ago.”
Scanlin’s personal style and approach are informed by her extensive classical training. Scanlin said that she enjoys delving into traditional tunes and coming up with intricate arrangements, sometimes by drawing parallels between folk tunes and music she learned from her classical training.
An example appears in a track called “Inion Ni Scannlain,” a song on Rakish’s self-titled extended play, which was released on Oct. 17. “Inion Ni Scannlain” incorporates a traditional minuet movement from one of Bach’s partitas for solo violin, which Scanlin and Hearn arranged for guitar and fiddle. Scanlin added that playing classical chamber music has also informed her approach to playing as a unified group in her folk bands.
“I think that the wonderful thing about classical music and classical pedagogy is that it teaches you how to practice,” Scanlin said. “Through studying classical music, I’ve figured out what it means to really have a good tone and have a good sound — that is fundamental instrumental playing and can transfer to any style of music.”
At the School of Music, Scanlin studies with well-known violin professor Ani Kavafian.
Rianna Turner | firstname.lastname@example.org .