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Arlington musician shares her talents on the Scottish fiddle

Barbara McOwen played the fiddle with her husband Robert at a family wedding in October 2014.

By Janice Elizabeth Berte, Contributing Writer

How many people do you know that play the Scottish fiddle? Well, Arlington resident Barbara McOwen plays just that and lots more. With her husband Robert, McOwen moved from California to Massachusetts in 1979 with a B.A. in Music from the University of California, Berkeley.

Having a strong passion for the Scottish fiddle, McOwen founded her current band Tullochgorum (meaning “blue-green hills” in Gaelic) that has performed across the U.S., Canada and Scotland. She also co-founded three community Scottish music organizations in Boston, New Hampshire and New York City, the annual Boston Branch Royal Scottish Country Dance Society concerts, the New Hampshire Highland Games, Stockton Folk Dance Camp, and the Boston Harbor Scottish Fiddle Camp.

In addition, McOwen has recorded eight albums from the 1970s to 2012. These records cover her Scottish fiddle career; she is releasing the earlier records onto CDs. Some of McOwen’s favorite Scottish tunes are “Paps of Glen Coe” (“mountains around the village”) and “Port a Bhodaich” (“song of the old man”).

McOwen has also worked for 13 years with highland fiddler Aonghas Grant in Scotland. They published two volumes of his musical repertoire, biography and stories, coupled with old family photos. It also includes a DVD of Aonghas playing a number of his fiddler tunes in the book.

McOwen is experienced in teaching all ages, all levels, and many instruments, and has developed a course for teaching Scottish fiddle from the beginner through advanced levels. She has taught Scottish music courses throughout North America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, including at the Ceilidh Trail School of Celtic Music in Cape Breton. She has also composed a number of tunes which have gained some worldwide fame.

Her musical arrangements have gained her notoriety for Scottish country dancing as well. She currently teaches private Scottish fiddle lessons full-time at her home and at the New Hampshire School of Scottish Arts. She is a member and performer at the Gaelic Club, which brings her into regular contact with the traditional Cape Breton music scene.

Her love for the Scottish fiddle led her to start the Boston Scottish Fiddle Club in 1982 which is co-founded by her friend, Ed Pearlman. As this club grew, the pair employ rotating teachers on the first Sunday of every month to teach beginner, intermediate and advanced fiddle classes in Belmont at the Plymouth Congregational Church. All enthusiasts are welcome since the classes offer all levels to anyone interested.

Along with the Fiddle Club, McOwen has started hosting fiddle jam sessions on the third Wednesday of every month at the Canadian American Club in Watertown.

McOwen and Pearlman also rent out an old school on Thompson Island in Boston on the second week of August. This is a gathering of teenagers and adults that come from all over the world to play the fiddle, as well as two teachers from Scotland.

For more information, visit


Aonghas Grant’s Glengarry collection features Barbara McOwen.

Barbara McOwen with Aonghas Grant in May 2013

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