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11 Feb 2020

Gregg violin woos the windy city

Written by David Hopes
Two mean with luggage standing on a quayside with Chicago skyscrapers in the background
Chicago was our last stop on the US tour, but we managed to engage with an astonishing range of people in and around the windy city.

Our first stop was the amazing Caledonian Home run by the oldest not-for-profit organisation in Illinois, the Chicago Scots. Residents gave the violin a warm welcome as they reinforced their link to Scotland, which is in evidence everywhere around the home – from artefacts and memorabilia on display in glass cases to a bronze statue of a piper in the grounds! We also called at the Admiral at the Lake Care Home playing to over 100 residents, many of whom were moved to tears by the violin. One lady recalled Auld Lang Syne as the song she heard aboard the Queen Mary when she sighted the Statue of Liberty for the first time.

An audience of older people listening to a man on a stage with a violin
The Admiral at the Lake Care Home

Our next engagement was 61 storeys in the air at the magnificent residence of the UK Consul General to Chicago, Alan Gogbashian. Alan hosted an evening with Scottish Development International and Scottish Universities Alumni in the city.

A man standing on a spiral staircase holding a violin, in front of a group of people gathered below
At the residence of the UK Consul General in Chicago

We also managed to visit three exceptional schools in the area – the famous Old Town Music School, North Shore Country School, and Sunset Ridge Elem School – where Alistair McCulloch gave students a flavour of Scottish music on the Gregg violin and for those learning the fiddle, a crash course in strathspeys.

A group of students holding instruments with a man holding a violin at the back of the group
Students from the Old Town Music School

The Duke of Perth is a Scots bar in Chicago run by the charismatic Jack Crombie. We called in to sample their renowned fish and chips, and noted the excellent range of Scottish beers and whiskies. Jack was the main speaker at a Burns Supper held the night after at the Lake Forest History Center, a dynamic resource centre which encourages community ownership of storytelling in the Lake Forest and Lake Bluff area north of Chicago. This was the settling place of many Scots who founded businesses we still know today – Quaker Oats, Wilson Sporting Goods, RKO Pictures, and many others.

A city of skyscrapers lit up at night
The Chicago skyline at night

As Alistair and I gazed at the Chicago skyline from the shores of Lake Michigan, we reflected on the 1,700 people (and many more via TV, radio and podcasts) we’d met in 5 cities over 21 events in 16 days during this amazing trip. As the violin now returns to its home in Ayrshire, I feel sure it will continue to move those who heard it, as it did Robert Burns. But for now, I need to lie down ...

A video showing the itinerary for the Gregg violin tour

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