Subtitled "A documentary about Alisdair Fraser's musical journey", this a remarkable film about traditional music, identity, and inspiration. It's about fiddle music, Scottish music, and artistic expression, but also about culture and life and our place in history.
As many will know, Alasdair Fraser is a world class fiddler who left Scotland for a job in the US oil industry but soon became an iconic figure in Scottish music with his album Skyedance, and then went on to found a series of music camps which have influenced a huge number of players in Scottish, American, Spanish and other music. Not just fiddlers: the addition of the cello, a popular "second fiddle" in eighteenth century Scotland, led to Fraser's hugely successful and influential partnership with the brilliant Natalie Haas, and now in addition to fiddles and cellos the music camps feature guitars, pipes, flutes, and more.
The Groove is Not Trivial documents the success of these camps, but also Alasdair's approach to building the camps, inspiring the participants, teaching the music of his home, and creating a whole new appreciation of traditional music, cultural identity, and group performance. So many musicians have been touched by Alasdair's enthusiasm and philosophy - you can see many of them in the film, and there are many more unseen. There are elements of the struggle for independence - common to Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Quebec and other areas with a rich musical culture. There are lessons from dance, from jazz, from percussion, and from older civilizations than ours.
The concept of the "groove" might be new to you - it was to me - or you might associate it with hippies, or jazz, or even Austin Powers, but essentially it's about how you understand a piece of music. I think of it as feeling the tune, getting inside it, expressing yourself through it, and being free to innovate within the shape of the music. You have to trust your instincts, let go of your inhibitions, and be prepared to take risks. You also have to understand the limits of the groove, how it is defined by the tradition (the limits of the usual Scottish fiddle range, the bagpipe scale, the rhythms of traditional dance and other factors), and of course how far you can depart from the groove and still return.
Alasdair has a remarkably simple and effective approach to developing an appreciation of the groove, which is illustrated perfectly by scenes from his fiddle camps. As well as being a fascinating and entertaining film, packed with good music and skilfully recorded by young film maker Tommie Dell Smith, The Groove is Not Trivial has a message for all of us. Our culture and tradition is important, a sense of place and history is important, and understanding the origins of a tradition can help you get inside it and become a part of it, as well as allowing you to add to the tradition, extend the groove, and move the tradition forward in the manner of great musicians like Scott Skinner, Tom Anderson, Fergie MacDonald, Buddy MacMaster, Gordon Duncan, and Alasdair Fraser.
Photo Credits: (1) The Groove Movie, (2) Alasdair Fraser (unknown/website).