Fiddle-L Anthology 1999

A Tour 'Round The World Of Fiddling

Performer Bio


Jan Tappan, Pasadena, California ( /

Jan was born March 13, 1948, in Pasadena, Los Angeles County, California. She holds a BA in Anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley, with an emphasis in folklore and primate behavior. She is the owner of Fiddlers Crossing, a mail order Celtic music source, and also works as a research assistant in animal behavior at the Los Angeles Zoo. Active in many traditional organizations, Jan is the Music Director of Scottish Fiddlers of Los Angeles, and Vice President(s) of Scottish Fiddling Revival, Scottish Fiddlers of California, and California Traditional Music Association.


Jan's heritage is Scottish, Irish, German and Swiss; her mother was born in Colorado and her father came from Rochester, New York. Jan's younger brother also plays violin and her three children played violin "for a while as they were growing up; none currently plays now, though one is an opera singer!" Jan started taking violin lessons at age 8, for five years. "[I] loved fiddle music at the time, but couldn't play it. Gave up violin for about 20 years, then started playing Scottish fiddle." She has taken fiddle lessons from Alasdair Fraser, and was a founder of the Valley of the Moon Scottish Fiddling School. She has also participated in Sabhal Mor Ostaig in Scotland, a summer fiddle course at Stirling University, California Traditional Music Association festivals (teaching festivals), and a Scottish fiddle summer workshop in West Virginia. The first fiddle tune Jan played was Si beag si mor, and it was also the first tune she learned by ear (from a recording). She does not have a single favorite tune, but "some current favorites are Jack Broke the Prison Door, Catching Rabbits by Ian Powrie, Last Day of August, Brumley Brae, and Myra's Jig by Ian Lowthian". She notes Catriona McDonald's beautiful rendition of Myra's Jig. Favorite fiddlers include Alasdair Fraser ("before he got into new age stuff"), Judi Nicholson, Charlie Cowie, Johnny Cunningham, and Bonnie Rideout.


Jan enjoys playing jigs, marches, strathspeys, and airs, and occasionally a two step; in the past she has used cross tuning. She is also learning the piano. Her favorite backup instruments for fiddle tunes are guitar, piano, and accordion, "in no particular order". Jan has played for many weddings ("sometimes the wedding reception is a dance as well"), dances, occasionally at services for St. Andrews, and funeral services; often she can be found performing at Highland games and concerts put on by L.A. fiddlers.



Jan used to play in fiddle contests before becoming a judge; she still enjoys attending. Her first entry was in 1983 or 84 at a Highland games tournament in southern California. She notes that backup is not allowed in Scottish competitions. She competed at the U.S. National Scottish Fiddling Championships, but didn't win: "Alasdair Fraser did". Over the last ten years, Jan has judged contests, including events in northern California, Oregon, North Carolina, and the U.S. Nationals in New Hampshire. She mentions that pay ranges from $200-300 "for a day/weekend, which might include teaching a workshop, performing, or playing for dancers". Her thoughts on judging contests: "On the positive side, I love encouraging fiddlers and try to write positive comments on their playing and give ideas to make their playing better. On the negative side, sometimes people are hurt by the results and I hate that. I try to be as supportive as I can to the people who don't win. [A good contest judge is] someone who knows the idiom and the various styles that are part of the Scottish idiom and is willing to accept any of the legitimate Scottish styles in a competitor. Someone who is a fiddler and can give technical comments which help the competitor. Someone who will write positively about the performance, encouraging the competitor. I really think it's best [when a judge is a fiddler]. You may be a good musician and know the idiom, but you don't know what is needed in terms of what the fiddler needs to work on to get the results he/she is striving for."


Jan calls her fiddling "Scottish, not Cape Breton". She names Niel Gow and Scott Skinner as early influential fiddlers. Within the Scottish idiom, she names Northeast, Highland, and Shetland as the main styles, noting that there are some smaller styles. In southern California, Irish styles predominate, as well as Old Time; "Scottish style is definitely a minority!". Jan plays in a Scottish dance band and has recorded on albums with the Los Angeles Fiddlers on California Ceilidh, Scottish Fiddlers and Friends, Scottish Fiddlers of Los Angeles in Concert, and two videos: "15th Anniversary Concert", 1996, and "A Celtic Celebration", 1997.


The Italian fiddle Jan plays was made by Honore Derazey. "He made fiddles between 1830 and 1883, so it was made somewhere in that time period. It has a Zeus head instead of a scroll and the back is highly decorated with a village scene and a drawing of Minerva and a carving of a cherub in a tree which has flowers on it." She describes its personality as "easy to play; the sound is on the loud side, but [it] balances highs and lows." Jan uses a German shoulder rest ("looks a bit like a Kuhn, but isn't plastic") made of wood and foam rubber. She plays with Thomastik Dominant strings: "I play outdoors a lot, and these tend not to go out of tune much in changing weather conditions." Her bow was made by John Norwood Lee. She mentions there are three other violins in the house, "but I'm not trying to collect them".



"I love the music. Fiddle music has taken me to many places in the world I'd

never have gone to if I hadn't been playing fiddle."


In May 1997, Jan wrote the tune "80 Years Young," a slow air, for her dad's 80th birthday; she played it for him at the birthday party. "He'd said he didn't want gifts, but I figured he couldn't turn down a tune. I asked him what he wanted to name it, and he said "Bob" which is his name. I told him it was a traditional tune and should probably have a slightly more orthodox name. We agreed on 80 Years Young - still not terribly orthodox, but certainly descriptive of Dad and his outlook on life." Guitar backup is provided by her husband, Dave Tappan. "He plays a great number of instruments. By profession, he's a pediatrician. He plays in the dance band and also with the L.A. Fiddlers."