Acclaimed fiddler, Westford native, and Groton Hill alumna Katie McNally grew up playing Scottish and Cape Breton music and currently tours with her own projects, Fàrsan, Pine Tree Flyers, and the Katie McNally Trio. A member of the cross-genre fiddle supergroup, Childsplay, Katie has also toured with Karan Casey, John Whelan, and Galician bagpiper Carlos Núñez. She will perform in our own Meadow Hall on Saturday, October 22, 2022 as part of Brian O’Donovan’s Celtic Roots & Branches concerts. Buy Tickets
Tell us a little bit about your beginnings with the fiddle. How did you decide the fiddle was your instrument?
My mom always tells the story that when I heard Itzhak Perlman on the radio as a kid, I basically threw myself on the ground and wouldn’t stop bugging her until she promised that I could take violin lessons. I took classical lessons for a couple of years before really hitting my stride when I began playing Scottish and Cape Breton fiddle music and found my place in the wider traditional music community.
When did you begin studying at Groton Hill (then Indian Hill)?
I started taking lessons at Indian Hill in 1999 at age nine when my public school string program in Westford recommended that I take private lessons. Joe Jewett was my violin/fiddle teacher and I took piano lessons with the wonderful Isabella Korn.
How did your studies here as a child influence your path as an adult? What did you learn from taking lessons here?
If I hadn’t met Joe, my life may have gone in a completely different direction. I’m not even sure that I’d still be playing the violin! He was a kind, gentle, and patient teacher who showed me music that truly moved me and made me curious. He introduced me to a community of people who were so supportive in my musical upbringing and are still my friends, colleagues, and heroes 20 years later. I’ve traveled the world as a fiddle player and I can’t imagine what my life would have been without the path that Joe’s lessons set me on.
When did you decide that a music career was for you? How did that path unfold?
It was sort of in the back of my mind for most of my teen years because I had some pretty amazing female fiddling role models in Boston, like Hanneke Cassel and Laura Cortese. After I graduated from Tufts University, I got a job at Berklee College of Music working on curriculum development for the Berklee City Music Network. At that point, I was pretty sure I was going to have a career in school music education, but a few months into that job I got a call for a month-long tour with Galician bagpiper Carlos Nuñez, and I have been performing full-time ever since.
What would you tell a young musician who may be struggling with practicing / growing as a musician?
I find it hard to practice when I have to play music that I’m not particularly inspired by. Sometimes you have to grit your teeth and get through it, but I think more often than not, it’s a sign that you should follow your ear and your heart in a different direction. Whatever truly, deeply excites you musically is the thread to follow. Do you mostly listen to Lizzo in your spare time? Learn her flute solos! Does something tingle on the back of your neck when you hear Hardanger fiddle in Lord of the Rings? Go listen to traditional Norwegian music! It sounds really cliche, but as an artist (and you are one!) you need to learn and make the music that is authentic to you.
What do you have going on in your career that you’d love others to know about?
I’m the artistic director of the Boston States Fiddle Camp which takes place just down the road from Groton Hill at Grotonwood Camp. Our mission is to encourage players of any ability or age to learn, explore their own creativity, and most of all, to have fun. Our teachers are the best exponents of Scottish and Cape Breton traditional music and we want to celebrate those traditions by jamming late into the night, dancing, and singing at the top of our lungs. There’s still room at this year’s camp so please join us: www.bostonstatesfiddle.com
How do you feel about coming back to play in our new home?
I’m so excited and delighted that the area I grew up in has such a stunning new hub for music. It’s a real honor and privilege to be part of Groton Hill’s opening season!
Brian O’Donovan’s Celtic Roots & Branches
Featuring Katie McNally, Neil Pearlman, and more.
Saturday, October 22
Meadow Hall at Groton Hill Music Center
Tickets Available for 4pm Show | Buy Tickets