Music Bio

Laura Risk’s fiddling has been described by filmmaker Ken Burns as “a revelation and achingly beautiful” and Living Tradition hails her “powerful, percussive style… bursting with energy and passion.”

Originally from California, now living in Montreal, Laura performs and teaches Scottish and Québécois fiddling internationally and has over a dozen albums to her credit. Her distinctive sound and compelling interpretations of traditional tunes are intensely personal yet grounded in meticulous archival and ethnographic research. Laura has toured with Cordelia’s Dad, Triptych, Ensemble Galilei, and dancer Sandy Silva; served as musical director for ensembles Childsplay and Revels North; and produced seven albums, including three for fiddler Hanneke Cassel. Her research credits include articles in Ethnomusicology and MUSICultures, co-authorship of The Glengarry Collection: The Highland Fiddle Music of Aonghas Grant (Mel Bay), and the CD-booklet Douglastown: Music and Song from the Gaspé Coast, awarded the 2014 Prix Mnémo. Laura holds a PhD in Musicology from McGill University, for which she received the 2017 Governor General’s Gold Medal.

Native de la Californie mais établie actuellement à Montréal, Laura Risk enseigne et présente la musique traditionnelle de l’Écosse et du Québec au niveau international.

Son son distinctif et ses interprétations convaincantes des airs traditionnels sont intensément personnels tout en étant fondés sur une recherche méticuleuse d’archives et d’ethnographie. Au cours des dernières années, Laura s’est illustrée avec les grands noms de la musique traditionnelle américaine et celtique tels que Cordelia’s Dad, Triptych, Ensemble Galilei, et la gigueuse Sandy Silva. Laura poursuit par ailleurs une carrière de chercheuse et elle détient un doctorat en musicologie de l’Université McGill, pour lequel elle est récipiendaire d’une médaille d’or du gouverneur général du Canada. Ses articles ont paru dans les revues savantes Ethnomusicology et MUSICultures, et elle est coauteure du livre The Glengarry Collection: The Highland Fiddle Music of Aonghas Grant. Elle est également coréalisatrice du disque Douglastown: Musique et chanson de la Gaspésie, pour lequel elle a gagné le Prix Mnémo 2014.

Academic Bio

Laura Risk is an Assistant Professor of Music and Culture in the Department of Arts, Culture and Media at the University of Toronto Scarborough, with a cross appointment in the Graduate Department of the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto.

Her research examines genre formation and the mechanics of innovation in traditional music from Québec and related fiddling-based traditions and, more recently, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on musicians and musical communities. She also works on a variety of applied ethnomusicology projects, ranging from archiving historic recordings and producing community CDs to designing professional development workshops for community music educators.

Laura has published articles in Ethnomusicology, MUSICultures, and the SAGE Encyclopedia of Music and Culture, and has a chapter in the recently published Contemporary Musical Expressions and Cultural Resonances in Canada (McGill-Queen’s University Press). She is a co-author of The Glengarry Collection: The Highland Fiddle Music of Aonghas Grant and co-producer of the CD Douglastown: Music and Song from the Gaspé Coast, for which she received the 2014 Prix Mnémo.

Laura holds a PhD in Musicology from McGill University, where she was awarded the 2017 Governor General’s Gold Medal in Human Sciences. Her research has received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the Fonds de recherche du Québec—Société et culture (FRQSC), the GRAMMY Museum Grants Program, and Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec. Laura is a collaborating member of the Centre de recherche interuniversitaire sur la littérature et la culture québécoises (CRILCQ) and a member of the Institute for Music in Canada. She is also active as a performer and teacher of traditional fiddle music.


Laura plays in a powerful, percussive style, with tight control and beautiful tone but bursting with energy and passion, turning reels into romps and slow airs into soul-searches. —Living Tradition Magazine

A rare level of grace, vivacity, and emotional depth. —The Boston Herald

[Laura Risk] has that absolutely uncanny knack, not of knowing how much to put into a tune, but rather how little. She wrings every drop of passion, heartache or melancholy from most every note she plays… Just magic. —Green Man Review

Inflections of pitch, explosive ornamentation, firm phrasing and robust tone charged her playing with both nuance and muscle. —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

A virtuoso fiddler. Her fluency in fiddle styles from Cape Breton to Appalachia is remarkable. —The Boston Globe

Brilliant… Risk’s fiddle dances through the music like a live thing, and you can’t help but wonder if her nimble fingers have ever missed a note. Her playing is emotional, sincere, gorgeous. —Rambles

[2000 Miles is] a fine CD with a wide mix of tunes, all played with a delicious touch, reflecting hours of experimentation and judgment. “The Sound of War from the Glen” is an aching slow air from the Simon Fraser Collection, a tune to build a career on. Scottish reels like the “Nine Pint Coggie” and “My Kindly Sweetheart” swing like the clappers and have a modern syncopated style related to that of many young fiddlers in the USA and in these Islands. Strongly recommended. —Fiddle On! (U.K.)

2000 Miles finds [Risk’s] crack fiddling backed by four capable friends from the Québécois folk and jazz scenes. It’s a collection of mostly traditional Scottish tunes set in simple, complementary arrangements with combinations of guitar, piano, bass, and percussion that emphasize the often complex melodies while not slighting the fact that most of them were meant for dancing. The 18th-century reel “The Miser” is full of big, playful, percussive strokes, while the strathspey “Mr. Martin’s Compliments to Keith Norman MacDonald” steps along with all the delightful dignity its name implies. There are also some lovely slow tunes, like the aching “The Bonnie House of Airly,” where Risk’s quietly intricate bowing taps a deep well of emotion. —Dirty Linen

Made in Quebec, 2000 Miles is an excellent, imaginative new album of Scottish music… Verve and lyricism are both abundantly evident. —’The Planet’, ABC Radio National (Australia)

Top 10 CDs of 1999… At once pastoral and sweeping. —The Boston Globe (about Celtic Dialogue)

The first notes sound classical, with lush and proper piano chords meeting the high sweet arc of a violin. As the rhythmic pulse thickens, you’re sure it’s traditional music, some dark, ancient Celtic air. Then, Laura Risk’s fiddle pushes the melody’s pedal to the floor, and you don’t care what it is. It’s just beautiful… Celtic Dialogue is a gently daring new CD of Scottish traditional music… It sounds unlike any music you’ve heard before, because it is: Most of its eighteen selections have not been performed for more than 200 years. —The Boston Globe

[Celtic Dialogue is] beautifully performed… Fiddler Laura Risk and pianist Jacqueline Schwab give a refined chamber music treatment to some exquisite 18th-century melodies. —The Washington Post