Traditional Music (introduction by Jan Culshaw)
Ask anyone who doesn't live here to name a traditional Scottish musical instrument and it's odds-on that they will name the bagpipes. A billion shortbread tin lids have led the world to believe that all music in Scotland is played by a lone piper on the battlements of a ruined castle with a misty loch in the distance. Dig a little deeper, and you'll find those (like me, before I came to live here) who sort of know that there are fiddles and accordions and drums, but have no real appreciation of the music itself, or of its importance and the depth to which it is embedded in the Highland way of life.
Learning to listen - really listen - to this kind of music has been one of the real revelations in my years here. The variety, the melodies, the emotions, the ethereality and the sheer footstomping energy to be found is simply amazing.
The Development of Traditional Scottish Music (by Bill Skeoch)
Although Scottish traditional music is almost immediately recognisable as the product of the Scottish people, due in part to the musical idiom of the ‘Scots Snap’, it does not rest as one particular style or sound. This can be seen as being due the many influences on it throughout history. As far back as the 16th century and probably earlier, musicians were exchanging tunes, songs and ideas with Ireland, Norway, France and England, usually but not exclusively along the borders shared with these countries. It can also be seen that the character of each region has helped shape the music. Thus we find differences in the music and song of the west coast, east coast, borders and Shetland. Of course when it comes to song, the language and dialect of each region comes into play and not least the industries of these parts, the fishing of the East Coast the factories and heavy industry of the Central Belt, the historic battles that has taken place in each region and of course the politics and its effect on the people.
The earliest instruments, apart from drum, have been seen to be lyre or harp type instruments where a string is stretched in the manner of an archer’s bow and the whistle where a hollow reed has strategic holes cut into it. A double-whistle player can be seen in a carved stone relief c.140 AD which was found at Bridgeness in East Lothian. Of course no music remains from these early times but we can follow the progress through the ages of the different types of instruments adopted by musicians through the centuries.
The bag pipe and clarsach (harp) are the two truly traditional instruments of Scotland even though they are by no means exclusive to this country. Other instruments have come and gone, the fedyl, rebec, psaltry, cittern among others have all played a part in the development of traditional music, most of these coming from the Middle East, said to be brought back to these islands by the Crusaders. The croud (Crwth in Wales) is the only instrument from the middle ages said to be of Celtic origin, it had a box like shape with a finger board and was bowed. The Cittern, a guitar type instrument played with a plectrum, is the only one of these that has been making a tentative come back.
The fiddle (violin) made its appearance in the late 17th century and is now the instrument best identified in Scottish traditional music along with the bag pipe. The fiddle cannot be dealt with without at least mention of the great writers for that instrument Neil Gow 1727-1807 who was so successful that he opened his own publishing house and of course James Scott Skinner 1843-1927from Banchory, a prolific writer of tunes who published over 600.
The Spanish style guitar, the accordion in its various forms, the mandolin, banjo from Africa via the USA and others, all found their way into Scottish music from other countries. One of the most recent being the bouzouki from Greece via Ireland which has over the matter of a few decades changed in Scottish and Irish hands to become almost a different instrument. Musicians it can be seen have always and always will seek out new ways of expressing their music and one of the latest instruments to raise its head in Scottish traditional music is the Indian Tabla. So the evolution goes on, as does musical influence from beyond these shores.
Writers of tunes are drawing on Eastern European sources. Modern players can be found ‘breaking down’ a tune in a manner that can be found in jazz and more notably in American Bluegrass. It is indeed very much a living tradition and some of these contemporary trends will be dropped and some will have due influence and change the shape of the tradition. However the music will always at it’s heart and soul be Scottish, being held, ‘true to its roots but open to influence’, to paraphrase of Benjamin Zephaniah.
Good examples of contemporary Scottish Traditional music can be found in the works of , Daimh, , Lori Watson, Old Blind Dogs, Ali Bain and Phil Cunningham, Shooglenifty, , Finlay MacDonald and many, many more.