11 April 2015

The Big Draw: 25 Years On


Reesa McGinn was a founder member of the SFO and, together with her great friend, Betty Henderson, an essential ingredient in any SFO concert of the 1980s and into the 1990s.

John Mason (pictured above) composed several lovely duets for Betty and Reesa to play, each one partly accompanied by the Orchestra.

The two ladies were both teachers in their day jobs. Reesa was an art teacher and, when the SFO reached its 10th anniversary in 1990, Reesa undertook the massive task of drawing each member of the Orchestra, plus some former members and supporters, for a book entitled “The Big Draw of the Decade”.

The Big Draw of the Decade (SFO: 1980 – 1990)

In the introduction to the book – published in August 1990 – Grace Pratt, then Secretary of the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra, wrote:

“The Scottish Fiddle Orchestra was formed in 1980 to promote the performance and enjoyment of traditional Scottish music. By giving a number of public performances, the orchestra has contributed to many charities.

Soon after its formation, the orchestra began to produce records and cassettes of its unique blend of music, traditional and modern, toe-tapping and moving. Now, compact discs and videos have been added to the list of items which are sent worldwide. Radio and television appearances also followed.

The original intention of giving four annual concerts in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee has been maintained but, from 1981, the orchestra has performed in the Royal Albert Hall London, an event which is the highlight of the year for many expatriate Scots all over England and beyond. Birmingham is now been added to the list and already there have been two successful concerts there. In 1991, we shall extend our circuit to include concerts in Ireland and in Russia.

None of this has been achieved without a lot of hard work by every member of the orchestra under the charismatic guidance of John Mason. The players, of all ages and from every walk of life, quickly became a family.

Here they are, looked on with a kindly (?) eye by Reesa McGinn.”

Reesa’s own short note, below the introduction, reflected the warmth and fun in her friendship with Betty:

“Apologies are due for any missing faces from this collection but every attempt has been made to include as many friends and former players as space allowed. Thanks are due to the orchestra members for their toleration throughout, to Grace who burned the midnight oil correcting information errors (computer’s fault, of course!) and to Betty without whose invaluable advice everything might have been at least half right!”

You can read more about Betty’s life and character in this comprehensive obituary from the Herald newspaper of 30 October 2008 by Dr David Martin, former President of the SFO.

One clear indicator of the esteem in which both Reesa and Betty were held by the fiddling fraternity is the fact that both had tunes composed for them by Shetland fiddle legend, Dr Tom Anderson.

You can find Betty’s tune – a reel, entitled “Miss Betty Henderson” – in Tom’s book, “Ringing Strings”, at page 50, with the footnote: “A very fine lady fiddler from Ayr, of Shetland origin. Written for her in 1958.”

Reesa’s tune is at page 68 of “Gie’s an A” and was composed in 1983. Tom notes: “I composed this hornpipe for Reesa McGinn, a very fine fiddler. She is an art teacher in Ayrshire and she has done many caricatures of me at Stirling [where Tom Anderson ran a Summer school for fiddlers for several years].”

The title of Reesa’s tune is, appropriately, “The Artful Lady”.

Reesa McGinn & Betty Henderson, Fiddle Duettists, Ayr, from page 11 of “The Big Draw”.