Brian Freeman, seen standing in front of Robert Burns' cottage in Ayr, Scotland, will perform a musical tribute to Scottish poet. - Photo by Brian Freeman

'An Evening of Scottish Music'

This will be the fifth year that Brian Freeman has gathered a group of friends to celebrate the musical heritage of Scotland and its poet laureate, Robert Burns. Burns was born on Jan. 25, 1759 and died in 1796. Around the world on or near Jan. 25, people hold suppers and concerts in his honor.

Here in the Rogue Valley, the annual "Evening of Scottish Music" will begin at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24, at the First United Methodist Church, 174 N. Main St., Ashland. Doors open at 7:30.

Freeman (guitar, octave mandolin and vocals) will be joined by Dan Harriss on piano along with Christine Williams and Jim Finnegan providing additional vocals. Freeman has been performing both traditional and contemporary Scottish folk songs in America and Scotland for more than 30 years in concerts, at festivals and "any other place a wee song sung in a lilting, incomprehensible dialect is appreciated." He has six recordings.

Harriss has been performing throughout Canada and the U.S. both with bands such as the Pat Travers Band and as a solo artist since the 1960s, with numerous recordings to his credit. He performed with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Green Show in 2006 and 2007 and the Viva Voce Community Sing Along Concerts at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater.

Williams is a veteran of OSF and has sung locally with the Southern Oregon Repertory Singers and the Celtic group, Thistledown. In addition, she directed the past two musicals at Ashland High School.

Finnegan also is a past OSF company member. He often sings at the Celtic jam session Sundays at the Black Sheep.

Burns' verse and songs spoke strongly for the underdog and the downtrodden and won a special place for him in his kinsmen's hearts. The first half of the concert is all Robert Burns, either collected by or written by Burns. Burns collected songs for the National Scottish Museum, much as Alan Lomax did for the Library of Congress in this country.

"Burns would search out tunes," Freeman said. "That's where he came upon "Auld Lang Syne." It was an existing song that Burns reworked. He modified it and made it a better song. The tune we sing at New Year's is not the original melody. Burns' publisher didn't think the original was catchy enough, so he substituted a different one."

But the original tune is becoming popular in musical circles. Freeman said he will probably sing it at the concert.

Freeman described the first half of the concert as reflecting Burns' perspective on Scottish life. By contrast, the songs in the second half reflect a lot of people's perspectives and will feature different Scottish music with Freeman's arrangements.

"Scottish music covers a wide range of music including battle songs, love songs and absolutely ridiculous songs," he said.

Freeman, who plays a variety of instruments, will concentrate on guitar and octave mandolin for this concert. The octave mandolin is bigger and has lower tones. "That makes it a great instrument to sing with," Freeman said. "With Don playing the piano, I can expand a little on my playing. It allows me a little more freedom playing with piano instead of other strings."

Harriss' piano playing also makes it possible for Freeman to explore different ways to express the music. "I like the shuffle 5/8 time signature, the jazzy Vince Guaraldi sound," Freeman said. "When you mix it with Scottish music it feels like it belongs there. In the Shetland music they play percussive stride-style piano behind it. That's the style made popular by jazz musicians like Fats Waller."

Freeman's daughter, Kailey, will be singing with her father.

"When I sing with Kailey, I like to do a lot of unison singing," he said. "We're exactly the same range. We can match. You can't beat family connections."

Freeman began his musical career playing rock and roll. "But I'm a passionate folkie," he admitted. "Folk music starts from representing cultures and people's stories. It takes all of the flavors of everything and can marry them better than other styles and still remain folk."

Tickets are $15 and $5 for children under 12. Tickets are available at the Music Coop, Ashland and at the door. To reserve tickets or for more information, call 482-1915.

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