Mari Black

A Chat With...Mari Black

This week, we are chatting with multistyle violinist and champion fiddler, Mari Black…and we’re delighted that Mari will be visiting Newcastle in Feb 2024 for a workshop and concert. You can book a place here!

Quick bio

Instrument(s): Fiddle
Best known as: A mischief-loving, adventure-seeking fiddler!
Your band(s) or collaborations that we should know about: I tour with my band, The Mari Black Trio, and as a duo with 3-time world accordion champion Cory Pesaturo. I also really enjoy other special collaborative projects, such as the new show I’m developing with Canadian fiddler Troy MacGillivray to tour in the US this coming spring, and a really fun duo collaboration with Glawsgow-based pianist Heather McAslan for when I’m in Scotland this February.
Sub-genre: Really anything that can be considered DANCE MUSIC! Lots of Celtic, Canadian, and American fiddling of course, but also swing, jazz, klezmer, balkan, tango … I love exploring toe-tapping music from all over the world!
Number of years on the folk scene: Well, really my whole life! But I suppose you can count “officially” from the release of my first album, FLIGHT, in 2014.
Greatest achievement or claim to fame: I suppose folks in the UK would know me best for winning the Glenfiddich Fiddle Championship back in 2014. A real honor for me!

What are you currently working on, and what’s in the pipeline for the coming year?

I’m really excited about the shows I’ve been developing for the upcoming touring season! My trio and I have been building a new rendition of our signature “Fiddling Around the World” show, and Nova Scotia/Cape Breton fiddler Troy MacGillvray and I are debuting a collaborative show called “Highlands to Islands” that is so much fun! I’m also cooking up a new solo album…

If someone is reading this who hasn’t listened to any of your music before, where should they start?

I think my first album FLIGHT is a great starting point. It features all my favorite styles of fiddling, as well as a bunch of my original tunes. I got to play with some pretty fabulous folks on it was well!

What’s on your playlist at the moment, and why does it appeal to you?

At the moment, I’ve been listening to the amazing band KAN, basically on constant repeat. They have such an amazing, driving sound, and the arrangements are absolutely out of this world! I find it really inspiring to listen to!

Which folk albums, in your opinion, should everyone listen to at least once, and why?

Oh my… how long is this list allowed to be?! For folks of the Celtic persuasion, definitely Capercaillie “Live In Concert” — such an incredible big band sound and show energy! Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas’s “Fire and Grace”, Liz Carroll’s “Lake Effect”, and Natalie MacMaster’s “Blueprint” — all three gorgeous albums that bridge a traditional style sensibility to a more “modern” sound and sense of arrangement. For the more “multi-style” people: Darol Anger’s “Diary of a Fiddler” — probably the best duo collaboration album I’ve ever heard. And Yo-Yo Ma & Edgar Meyer’s “Goat Rodeo Sessions” — an absolutely jaw-dropping album in every way!

Where are you most ‘at one’ with your instrument?

Definitely on stage! I truly believe that music is supposed to be shared, and so I feel most in that element when I get to play for other people. I love being able to offer music that gives people a chance to laugh, dance, breathe, sigh, mourn, hope, escape — whatever it is they are yearning to do, but that their current version of “real life” might not give them a chance to experience in a full and meaningful way. I think this is the real power of music. It allows us space to feel deeply and fully human. I love any time I can help open up that magical space for people to step into.

Please tell us about your practice regime, or how you keep developing as an instrumentalist.

I am definitely a practicer! I think of practicing as equal parts problem-solving (i.e. the “technical” side) and explore (i.e. the “creative” side), and I like to plan my practice time carefully so I have time and attention to give to both sides. I start with a very structured practice. First, a technical warm up — scales, arpeggios, double stops, and focused exercises to hone and polish things I want to have in tip-top shape for my tunes, like cuts, rolls, and specific bowing patterns. Then I have a chunk of time devoted to practicing new material I’m working on — I play with a metronome a lot to solidify the groove I want, and do many repetitions of small parts that need extra attention. I also do a lot of transcription work, learning off my favorite recordings. After that, I save time for less structured creative work. I’ll play tunes for fun with recordings, work on improvisation, or dive into some composing or playing around to discover new ideas/variations for tunes that I already play. I think it’s really important to have the balance, and I’m constantly tweaking my practice strategy to help maximize both the technical and creative work I do. (This is also my favorite thing to help my students work on! I believe that learning HOW to plan and practice is the most important thing you can do as a musician!)

What’s the most nerve-wracking thing you’ve done (musically), and what did you learn from it?

Every time I start a show with Cory Pesaturo! Our concert includes music from all over the world (for a taste, check out our duo album, “Unscripted”), and a huge portion of the show is improvised, at VERY fast tempos, with VERY loose plans of how things are actually going to go! We sail very close to the wind, and it’s super dangerous and unbelievably thrilling to play…but oh boy, are those first few seconds before we start nerve-wracking! We always like to say “It’s too late to turn back [we’re already on stage], but the furthest we’ll be from safety [the successful end of the show]!”

What’s the best advice you’ve been given as a musician?

As a performer, your whole job is to be of service. YOU don’t matter; the joy you can bring to other people is what really matters.

What’s your dream band line-up (dead or alive)?

Brian Finnegan!!!! (Brian, if you’re reading this, please come find me!) Ed Boyd, Anna Colliton. If we don’t care too much about getting a little stylistically weird, let’s go ahead and throw Bobby McFerrin and Edgar Meyer in there as well! …and wait, I get to play too, right? I’m assuming I get to play too!

To satisfy the instrument/equipment geeks amongst us, please tell us a little about the gear you use to make music.

I play a “no-name” (no label, no identifying marks) violin that is presumed to be of early 20th century German make — and I LOVE it! My bow is a J.P. Gabriel. I use Evah Pirazzi strings and Bernardel rosin, and for live shows, I use a DPA 4099 clip-on condenser microphone (in my opinion, the best amplification for preserving the natural acoustic sound of the violin!).

Find out more:

Further listening

Mari Black & Troy MacGillivray, multistyle dance tunes

Mari Black at the Glenfiddich “Festival of Champions”

One of Mari’s “Tune of the Month” videos:  Calum’s Road


Online session regulars may well recognise the pianist on this one…

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