Monday 26 August 2019

US couple's Sligo influence

Jane and Gordon Scott
Jane and Gordon Scott
Jane and Gordon Scott taking part in a traditional music session

The cities of Tallahassee, Florida, and Sligo, Ireland, became officially twinned in 1995 under the leadership of the Tallahassee-Sligo Sister City Program and the city council of Sligo.

Jane Wells Scott and her husband Gordon were board members of this Tallahassee organization. Earlier, in 1991, Irish traditional music sessions had been started by the Scotts at Tallahassee's Warehouse Pub. After twenty- eight years these monthly Irish sessions continue to entertain listeners at Finnegan's Wake Pub.

In April of 2019 Jane Scott received a Florida Folk Heritage Award for outstanding leadership in establishing regular Irish music sessions in Tallahassee.

She compiled The Tallahassee Irish Tune Book with more than 265 tunes, served as Florida State University folk-artist-in-residence and was instructor of the FSU Irish Ensemble.

Her students studied and played the traditional Irish genre and some pursued master degrees in Irish music at the University of Limerick. Scott's fiddler colleague, Aisha Ivey, a winner of numerous Scottish fiddle contests and instructor of the old-time ensemble at FSU, says of Jane, "We use her as a reference, for she has an amazing memory for tunes.

She also plays a variety of styles, which is unusual-Bluegrass, Old-Time, Irish, Scottish, Cape Breton, as well as playing numerous instruments."

Born in Jacksonville, Florida, Jane moved to South Alabama and grew up in a musical family proud of their Irish roots.

Her mom, Dorothy McGee Wells, often complimented her saying, "That's the Irish in you!" Her dad, Glenn Wells, was descended from the Dowlings on his mother's side.

Scott took violin lessons as a child and turned to fiddling in 1983 after her daughter Lise Sullivan graduated from high school.

She took fiddle lessons from Charlie Engstrom, who taught her quite a number of Irish and old- time fiddle tunes.

Then, late one night in 1987 at the Florida Folk Festival, Jane and Gordon were mesmerized by Irish tunes being played by James Kelly and Mick Moloney.

Fiddler Rus Bradburn inspired them with his observations on Irish music: "There must be an extraordinary power in that music, a music at the same time sorrowful and joyous, angry and passionate, disconsolate and hopeful. A music that could stop time at a funeral and turn the head of the very optimism of youth."

The couple found sustenance in music in a minor mode that is so joyous to play.

Hearing these extraordinary musicians perform at the Florida Folk Festival and being encouraged by the president of the Tallahassee-Sligo Sister City Program, Jane and Gordon sought out summer music programs such as the Willie Clancy Summer School and Davis and Elkins College's Irish Week.

Back at home they established traditional Irish music sessions at The Warehouse Pub. Lessons from James Kelly and later an apprenticeship with County Donegal-born fiddler Ed Keeney brought Jane full circle into Irish music.

Musicians from Sligo visited Tallahassee and offered suggestions on Irish traditional sessions. Fiddler Des Collis from Sligo, the former treasurer of Comhaltas Ceoiltori Eireann, stayed at the Scotts' home and later hosted private sessions when the Scotts visited Sligo.

In Jane's music studio is a framed Yeats' poem "The Fiddler of Dooney" that inspires her every day:

'When I play on my fiddle in Dooney,

Folk dance like a wave of the sea.'

As a musician, scholar and mentor, Jane Wells Scott has played a key role in the dynamic exchange of folk music traditions in North Florida, learning from Irish masters, documenting and sharing techniques and preserving those skills for new generations. Students and peers alike regard her as a valuable resource and important fixture in the community, and her work "elegantly reflects the rich quality of Florida's folk music heritage."

Jane and Gordon look forward to returning to Sligo in 2020 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the sister city association and to reconnect with Irish friends and colleagues.

Sligo Champion