To understand why Scotland's main export is "its people," you only had to hear traditional fiddler Bonnie Rideout Friday at the Lyceum in Alexandria, playing "Soft Is Her Whisper," a ballad from the remote, rugged Isle of Skye.
"My father calls this 'music to die by,' " said Rideout about the Hebridean folk tune, in which a persistent drone on the lower strings transforms a lonely melody into utter desolation.
Having evoked dark days that have sent the Scots packing, Rideout would tighten up her bow-hairs and begin embroidering some cheery, square-cut highland melody. Armed with a stash of jokes and a huge map of Scotland to explain the songs' origins, the reigning U.S. Scottish fiddling champion effortlessly switched gears from languorous ballad to virtuosic exercise. She contributed percussion and vocals when necessary. Her father, Douglas Rideout, playing a bird-shaped clay whistle known as an ocarina, also provided wonderfully varied timbres.
One questionable result of folk music's evolution is lush piano accompaniment of the sort provided by Betty Rideout, the fiddler's mother. Perhaps the two felt that added textures were needed to fill out Bonnie's reedy, vibrato-less sound; perhaps modern audiences expect the pairing. But occasionally, the piano's wash of sound prevented a full appreciation of the violin's subtleties and delicately filigreed lines.