Saturday, 29 December 2012

The Prodigal Saxophone Suite!

I arranged a short suite of Scottish tunes from Alexander Campbell's 19th century Albyn's Anthology collection, some months ago.  And rearranged two of the pieces for sax trio. I had a little panic the other day when I couldn't find them, but they turned up - where I'd shelved them - so I arranged the other three pieces, and now the sax suite is complete.  Anyone want a sax trio?  

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Writing written

I encountered Rohan Maitzen's impressive blog for the first time this afternoon:  It's set out with different sections for writings on academia, novel-reading, and much more - and it's a very attractive website to boot.  But what made me sit up today was the most recent posting, on Rohan's written output this year.  Oh, wow!

A few weeks ago I had cause to check back over my 2011 output, and found to my chagrin that I had nothing suitable for the Library and Information History Group essay competition.  (I'm hopeful that maybe I might have something for next year's competition.)  Moreover, I thought maybe it was worth looking at my written output for 2012, bearing in mind that I'm a librarian recently partially seconded to a postdoc position, and not a full-time academic.  I'm not even looking to change jobs, but how would it come across to a future employer, bearing in mind I would have to have a scholarly profile if something extraordinary did come along?

In 2012, I published three book reviews and two scholarly articles, with a book and another scholarly article pending in the first quarter of 2013.  (Another two articles have been submitted for peer-review.)  I've also made four contributions to the Times Higher Education 'What are you Reading?' column, and contributed postings to the Journal of Victorian Culture Online, and the librarianship online journal, Sunrise (CILIP East of England & CDG), for continuing professional development. 

Talking of CPD, I've followed the 23 Things programme right through, with a blogpost on just about every 'thing', on my Airs and Graces: the Muso's CPD blog.  

Actually, I've blogged much more than that, because I've also kept this blog going - True Imaginary Friends, about my journey to becoming a published book author - and the Whittaker Library blog, Whittaker Live, which is the longest-established of my blogs.  (There are a couple more, but I visit them very infrequently.)

On reflection, I realise I've actually written much more than I realised, and it's a fair reflection of my dual identity as music librarian and musicologist.  But I'm still hopeful that 2013 will be even better still.  Watch this space! 

Writing written 2012: Book Reviews
  1. Eighteenth Century Scotland 26 (Spring 2012), 30, Review of Blind Ossian’s Fingal: Fragments and Controversy, compiled and translated by James Macpherson, ed. and introduced by Allan Burnett and Linda Andersson Burnett (Edinburgh: Luath, 2011) 
  2. Fontes  Vol.59 no.1 (2012), 67-69, Review of The Music Trade in Georgian England, ed. Michael Kassler (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011) 
  3. Library Review 61.6 (2012), 470, Review of Peter Willis, Chopin in Manchester (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Elysium Press Publishers, 2011) 
  4. Times Higher Education. What are you reading? 4 contributions to this column in 2012. 
Journal articles
  1. Brio 49 no.1 (2012), 49-60, ‘Crowdsourcing the Celtic Bard: Wandering Minstrels and Mournful Harps from the Western Isles to Wales’ 
  2. Fontes Vol.59 no.1 (2012), 25-38, ‘Minstrels of the Celtic Nations: Metaphors in Early Nineteenth-Century Celtic Song Collections’ 
  3. Journal of Victorian Culture Online October 30, 2012, ‘Just another old book of Scottish Tunes?’ 
  4. Sunrise (CILIP East of England & CDG) 2012 issue 1, 2-3, ‘SocialMedia in Libraries: Me and My Cyber Presence’
  1. Article accepted 
  2. Book: Our Ancient National Airs: Scottish Song Collecting from the Enlightenment to the Romantic Era: Ashgate for publication March 2013. 

The Distracted (but not yet abstracted) Mind

Okay, I've tried to acess the Golden Pages conference website - but I can't persuade it to register me, and without registering myself, I can't register the conference either.  So, in a word, I'm stuck.

Let's look at the problem from another angle.  If I can't register the conference right now without human intervention, then maybe I should concentrate on writing my own abstract for submission to the conference.

Here's what I thought: if I start with the premise that every generation or so, there's a new book about Scottish music, then I can go back through the generations to the Scottish Enlightenment, and talk about William Tytler and John Callander.  One wrote a dissertation, and the other failed to produce a book.

There's no recorded link between the two, though they would undoubtedly have known one another.  However, what interests me is what determined that one would become an authoritative source, and the other would remain unwritten.  A case of 'Cometh the hour, cometh the man'?

Saturday, 22 December 2012

One Book Launch or Two?

 A Tale of Two Cities

This is where a First Book gets really exciting: we're going to have a Glasgow book launch in the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland's Whittaker Library (my workplace), when my book is published.  Ashgate's estimated publication date is 28 March 2013, but until we know the exact date, we can't plan a great deal.

I'm thinking of a short talk, and music from the different eras that I wrote about - from 1760 to 1888.  And also, a suite of tune arrangements that I've done, using tunes from one of the collections.  All this depends on my persuading willing/unwilling parties to perform for me! But after all, I do work in a Conservatoire.

But now there's the chance of a second launch at the Musica Scotica Conference in Edinburgh on 27 April 2013.  I suspect that launch may not involve performers, but who knows?  I do have one or two ideas - different ones.

Given the age-old competition between Glasgow and Edinburgh, it would be entirely appropriate to have an event in each city, don't you think?

Indexed an' a'

My book layout proofs have gone back to Ashgate, and my indexer has sent me the index.  I am very, very impressed with it!  It's interesting to see what she has found to index that I - never having trained as an indexer - would never have thought of!  I now need to check it and send it off to gladden my editor's heart when she returns from the Christmas break!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Callander's Ghost

My book may be at the proof-correcting, indexing stage already, but there's still plenty about my subject to interest me.

Take Mr John Callander, Esq.  He proposed to write a book about Scottish music.  He never did, mind you, but that's hardly the point.  I wanted to know what it would have been like, if he'd written it.

Off I went to Edinburgh last Monday, to inspect the eighteenth century Edinburgh Musical Society's Sederunt books - that's the minute books of the chairman, treasurer and directors' committee meetings.  As I sat on the train to Edinburgh, Mr Callander's ghost started up. 'Why are you off to Edinburgh?  You won't find much about me there.  Haven't you got better things to do with your time?  I never wrote the book, for heaven's sake.'

I ignored him, naturally.  I wanted to know more about him, I knew he'd been in the EMS, and there was a chance I might find just what I was looking for.

Callander was scathing.  As we walked up the steep steps to the Royal Mile, he kept up a running commentary.  'THIS wasn't here when I used to come to Edinburgh.  THAT MONUMENT wasn't there.' (He pointed to the Sir Walter Scott monument).  Well, he piped down once he realised I was going to sit and read the Sederunt books whether he liked it or not.

Did I find him there?  Intermittently, yes.  But not in connection with the proposed Scottish musical history book.

He wouldn't give me a moment's peace on the train back to Glasgow.  'I TOLD you so, I TOLD you so, I TOLD you so, Oh, so I did, Oh, so I did!'

Eventually, I had to tell him to shut up.  I'm afraid I was rather brusque.  'You didn't actually write the book, John.  But I have already written 6,000 odd words about you, so you're not really in a position to criticise!'

'Madam, you should be at home looking after your family, not writing books and articles, or earning a professional income.  It's most unladylike and unbecoming.'

Shall I let him think he's had the last word this time?

Saturday, 17 November 2012

The Proof (of a pudding is in the eating)

That's it, folks. I've been through the Word proofs of my entire book, edited them, and returned them to my editor.

Next, I must wait for the pdfs, then forward them to my indexer.  

Joseph Ritson - Scotish Song
Do you know what the most exciting part of this has been?  Re-reading about my song collectors and what made them tick; closely followed by opening my copy of Ritson's Scotish Song (yes, that's the spelling, and it's in the singular) and savouring the genuinely 18th century smell of the pages.  It's NOT musty - just very, very old.  And I love it!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Birth of a Book

It's five weeks since I last posted here.  What have I been up to?  

Workwise, I've started my part-time secondment as a postdoc researcher on an AHRC-funded project.  That entails looking at lots of late 18th and early 19th collections of Scottish fiddle tunes, with or without bass (or keyboard) accompaniments.

Disgruntled Song Collectors?

My Scottish song-collectors' 18th and 19th century noses are quite out of joint that I'm looking at a slightly different repertoire, but anything I learn in the fiddle books will doubtless affect the way I look at songbooks in future, so - as they say in modern parlance, 'It's all good'.

Besides, I've given a talk about Alexander Campbell's Highlands and Islands trip, to
Comann GĂ idhlig Ghlaschu (the Glasgow Gaelic Society), so it's not as though I have forgotten about the old boy.  

I've also spoken about doing a part-time PhD (What Karen Did, and What Karen Did Next) to doctoral students at the University of Glasgow (here's my PowerPoint on
Research, Careers and Making an Impact), and I'm booked to be on an emerging scholar panel at a seminar on practice-based research, next week.  So - I'm an emerging scholar?  Nice.

I have a secret fetish about semi-colons

But my spare time for the past week or so has been devoted to editing the Word Proofs of my Ashgate book.  It's an eye-poppingly fiddly task.  Formatting is a very obscure science! I hadn't realised how much I care about my semi-colons.  And then there are the little comments and suggestions for the bibliography.  So I've been diligently inserting the things my desk-editor thinks ought to be there, and - guess what?  - finding tiny details that need improving, or that I now needed more bibliographical details about.  All to the good, if it makes for a better book.

The whole document is due back with the editor by next Monday.  I'd like to do better than that, but it's probably better to take the time and make sure it's perfect.

And then I have to wait for the pdf proofs, and forward them to my indexer.

Yet again -watch this space!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The Reality of the Here and Now

I have a desk editor!  And I've returned my marketing questionnaire.  So, things are trundling on exactly as they should be.  Next, I'll see a proof of the cover, and then a proof of the book itself ...

... and then it will be nearly indexing time.  My indexer is getting excited, too! 

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Wanton Watty McAulay of Port Glasgow

It stands to reason that my eyes would pop with amazement when I discovered this mention of a McAulay who was a piper in Port Glasgow some time before 1730.  My in-laws were in Greenock by the mid-19th century.  One was certainly an organist - he played at Great Grandfather McAulay's funeral - so there was music in the family.

Before they were in Greenock, the McAulays were in Ballymoney, in Northern Ireland. That much we know from our family history research.  So, whether they were any indirect relation to this Watty McAulay in Port Glasgow a century before, is anyone's guess.  But it's a nice story.  In short, puir auld Watty had piping lessons paid for by a Highland Laird. He wouldn't join the Redcoats, was sent tae Virginia, and went mad. The Highland laird paid his release, whereupon Watty played joyously for the rest of his days, and 50 people subsequently testified to seein' his wraith. What a great story!

(Another interesting aside is that I once interviewed for a job in Virginia. If I'd have gone mad, what a good thing I didn't get the job!)

I found the elegy in Eighteenth Century Collections Online, having previously found mention of it in Glasgow University Library catalogue, where I was actually looking for the online version of my own PhD thesis.  Anyway, the Watty McAulay publication can be found here:- Tow Elegys, the first, On Wanton Watty McAulay, the famous Piper in Port-glasgow.  The second, On George Rollance King's Boatman of Port-Glasgow, who died twice, and is yet alive, and outwitted Death the third Time, who came to demand him.  The publication was printed in Edinburgh in 1730 - no publisher's name given.  (The spelling given above is as writ - not a misprint on my part.)

The Elegy on Watty McAulay is only seven sides long.  It's in Scots, and has those strange old "f"s in place of "s" at times, but I'm going to transcribe it as best I can, just so I can read it more fluently.  Here goes!  The meter is iambic: 888484, and the rhyming scheme is a version of the 'Scottish stanza' (also known as 'six-line stave', or the 'Burns stanza', because he was later to make much use of it): AAABAB.  In the case of Watty McAulay, we have three iambic tetrameters followed by a dimeter, another tetrameter and another dimeter.  (Burns's To a Mouse, is similar, but his fourth and sixth lines are longer.)

Wikipedia on the Scottish stanza - here.

An Elegy on wanton Watty McAulay, &c.

Portglasgow thou's e'n left a lean,
Thy Residenters may make Mean,
And gasp and Greet, and grunt and grean
   For by the Head
Death has our publick Piper taen,
   And feld him dead,
Right hartsomly when Day appears,
He won't t'sen Sounds throu our Ears,
Thir Thoughts shou'd force our Dewy Tears,
     As clear as Bed,
T'think that he's paid his Arrears,
     And he's e'en dead
When well repos'd wi' Sleep we lay
On Beds, and lipn'ing lang for Day,
While yet the Morn appear'd but gray,
    Wi' weel tun'd reed, 
He bony Highland Tunes cou'd play,
     But ah'! he's dead,
His Musick swet, gart yonnke's reel,
His Heart was true as only Steel,
Ae Morn e're Day, he left his Beel,
    And by the Gate
He meet a Vision like the D--ll
     But fled nae fra 't
At ilka Race, and ilka Fair,
Where he was wont to make Repair,
He gart his Pipes baith squeke and rare,
     His Drone was Basse,
We need nae look for piping mair,
     Dool is our Case,
Lang syne when he the Sheep did feed,
'Mangst Highland Hills, a Whim in's Head,
He took, and gat an aten Reed
     And sy't te play
And thereon did his Fancy feed
     Wi' bony Bay
A noted Highland Laird we hear,
He generously paid for his Lear,
And made him in his Art perquere,
      Whikl wan his Bread,
For mony a longsome Day and Year;
     But ah! he's dead.
A Gentleman, we'll pass his Name,
Hearing o' wanton Watty's Fame,
He trow't t' wile him frae his Hame
     And hight him Fee, 
T' keep his Redcoats in bra Game
     And Company.
But wanton Watty seem'd Right swer,
T' lea his auld Aquaintence here,
T' play before his Men o' Weer,
     And t' beshort,
He tell't him plainly in the Rear,
     Sir, I'm nae fort.
A westren Knight seing him wile,
Height he wad ca him to Exile,
To wit, Virginy, where his Toil
     Wad be right fair,
And able ne'er see Highland Isles,
For ever mair.
Transformed to Rage was Jest and Droll
And Patience wad nae langer tholl,
Sae sary Watty gat the Hole,
     And was confin'd,
Where he his hard Waird did condole,
     Wi' a fash'd Mind.
Mony for his Relief did pray,
At length it happen'd on a Day,
The Highland Laird wha ye heard say,
     That paid the Fee,
For Watty t' learn him for till play,
     Cam o're the Sea,
And fand him in this irksome Place,
But taking Pity on his Case,
Plead hard, and purchas'd his Release,
     Whilk gart Wat say,
Wi' cheery Looks stamp'd in his Face,
I'm bound to pray
For you Sir till my Knees grow sair,
Till Hides worn aff and Bones look bare,
And will do't t' for evermair,
     Come Reed or Corn,
Assist me Whistles, banish Care,
     Weel play till Morn.
Watty, thou wanton Highland Man,
Come o' a genteel Highland Clan,
At ilky Part the Gree thou wanm
     For lays sae snell.
In Musick sweet naen thee outran,
     Thou bore the Bell,
Thy whistles rusts now in the Sheath,
Sin e're the Time thou slipt thy Breath,
Wi' worth the Picture o' thee Death,
     Wae Hart right sair,
To see him seld wau'd I been laith,
     Had I been there.
A Scots bard might write a' his Days,
Wi' mony drolsome losome Lays,
And wi' an unco kine o' Phraise,
     Yet wad come short,
In telling wanton Watty's Praise.
     By true Report,


There's Fifty Folk , and Fifty baith,
Gie them a Book, they'll take their Aith,
That they saw Watty, or his Wrath,
     In his nain Weed,
And Folk's grown dubious a Faithm
     That he's nae dead.
Folk that speaks Truth we'll trow them best,
Twa fine true Neighbours hard his Test,
Freely they say, he this confest
     At his last Breath,
He trowt his Sp'rit wad get nae Reset,
After his Death.
The proper Reason he did gi',
Was that he grudg'd fairly t' Lye,
Folk that was merry Company,
     And gi'd him Placks,
And he gi'd them sweet Melody, 
     And canty Cracks.

(Placks = a small copper coin.)

In my Inbox

There's a link to an interesting article.  I'm going to print it out to read thoroughly, as it looks really rather interesting.  (English picturesque, but does he mention Scottish?)  Anyway, here it is:-

The Sound of the English Picturesque in the Age of the Landscape Garden STEPHEN GROVES Eighteenth Century Music / Volume 9 / Issue 02 / September 2012, pp 185 212 DOI: 10.1017/S1478570612000048, Published online: 30 July 2012 Link to this article:

Saturday, 25 August 2012

On writing readably

Tufts University has a graduate blog called The Right Stuff, which recently posted on getting your thesis published as a book:-
I recently published a similar article myself for the PhD to Published blog :- 
When I read the Tufts posting, it dawned on me that I have never, to date, written about readable writing.  It stands to reason that your writing has to flow, and it needs to be both accessible and enjoyable to read.

I believe I do write accessibly - I'm a great believer in plain English, and in saying what you have to say without unneccessary complexity.  

(Critics would say, at this point, that I had no right to make that last paragraph just one sentence long.  Hadn't I?  What if I wanted to?!  When we musicians harmonise tunes, strict rules tell us not to write "parallel fifths", or to move in parallel motion to an open octave.  The rules worked well for Bach and Mozart.  But did they stop Vaughan Williams or Sibelius?  Indeed they did not.  They composed how they wanted, to achieve the effect they wanted!  I rest my case.)

But back to the topic in hand.  One of my doctoral examiners commented that I "really made the characters of those song-collectors come to life."  At the time, I gracefully accepted the compliment without explaining where that particular knack came from.  I have a wealth of experience in - shhh! fiction writing - some years behind me.  So I've decided to come out: Ladies and gentlemen, I'm also a storyteller.  I've published over 30 short stories and a serial in the popular magazine press.

If you want to write readably, write in other formats than just your normal scholarly style.  You don't have to publish your efforts.  But I suggest that if you can make your subject interesting for other audiences, then it will help you to make "the book" interesting, too.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Alexander Campbell, a particular friend of mine

Inspiration struck!  Someone is tweeting from Walter Scott's letters (@WalterScottNews).  It occurred to me that, in similar vein, I could tweet from song-collector Alexander Campbell's 1815 summer diary.  He spent 3 months wandering the Highlands and Western Isles (aka, The Hebrides).  Round about now, he was on the Isle of Ulva and also visiting Staffa and Fingal's Cave.

Watch my tweets @Karenmca #AlexanderCampbell

(Maybe I should have posted this on, my work blog, but I'm on holiday this week, and I do try not to blog there while I'm off!)

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Hebridean bluestockings

Image from, with thanks
Way back in 2009, before I submitted my thesis, I spent some time following up the song- and tradition-collecting activities of some early bluestockings on Mull.  They got a mention in the thesis, and subsequently got much more of a mention in an essay that I wrote, devoted to their lives and musical activities.  The essay was for a competition, but - well, our team didn't win.

Undeterred, I submitted it to a scholarly journal.  Again, our team didn't win.  Indeed, our team was somewhat savaged this week, and that hurt.  However, although I could see what some of the objections were, I remain convinced that there's a home for it somewhere.  Accordingly, I've revised it again, but I woke this morning with one of those convictions-that-happen-overnight:

I need more information.

I've taken steps to track it down, so now I must wait patiently to see if it's traceable.  The other thing I need to do is check out future destinations for these ladies.  I've come across a journal that looks potentially suitable, but there's no harm in checking with friends who've already published there.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

A Sense of Place

From Glasgow to London

When I went to the British Library's Writing Britain a few weeks ago, it was in the context of already having spent some time as a doctoral postgraduate pondering on the importance of place to song-collectors (and writers) like Robert Burns, James Hogg, Sir Walter Scott, or Alexander Campbell, to name but a few!  So, with my PhD graduation day now a happy memory, I was all set to spend a couple of hours down memory lane.  I knew I'd be enthralled.

I arrived later than intended that morning, having spent an extra four hours on the sleeper down from Glasgow.  (This was after a week of flooding in England, and a landslide at Oxenholme meant a major detour for my train.)  Still, I had time to look at most of the exhibition, and what made it so enjoyable was the realisation that not only was I seeing publications that I'd encountered in my doctoral reading - I was also meeting old childhood friends as well: Charles Dickens, Alan Garner, Malcolm Saville, Arthur Ransome, George Eliot, Du Maurier, John Fowles - there they all were; and I realised that the common link in all of them was - yes, the descriptions of the localities in which the stories took place.

Now, whether this means I was a child particularly sensitive to the delicate nuances of description, or a child fortunate enough to have excellent English teachers, is a moot point.  Similarly, did all these descriptions of English places somehow resonate when I came to think about the effect that particular localities had on my Enlightenment and early Romantic Scottish song-collectors?  Or did I simply enjoy the idea that different places provided particular inspiration for these generations of collectors?  I can talk for hours about cultural nationalism now - I hadn't even heard of it as a child!  

All I knew about nationalism then was that Vaughan Williams based many works on English folk-tunes; that Sibelius's music evoked cold, chilly Nordic scenes; Smetana's Die Moldau (from Ma Vlast) made me think of peasants dancing beside a flowing river; and Mahler used folk-tunes he'd have known from childhood.

And from Norwich to Glasgow
 But let's return to today.  Well,  yesterday, actually.    We've just spent a long weekend in Norwich, where my teenage sons had been keen to wander around the mediaeval part of the city.  We criss-crossed from Tombland to St Benedict's Street, from Elm Hill to Castle Meadow, and from Gentleman's Walk to the City Hall.  I knew and was proud of Norwich's mediaeval past, but I had truthfully never realised just how many mediaeval, Tudor and eighteenth century buildings are still standing.  Buildings that were already old when my Scottish song-collectors were active.  Buildings in a place that "my" collectors had almost certainly never visited, of course.  I wondered, in an abstracted kind of way, what Norwich musicians were doing while "my" Scots were scuttling between peasant cottages collecting songs in the Hebrides, the Highlands or the Scottish Borders.

Yesterday, we drove back from Norwich - where I grew up - to Glasgow, where I've spent the past 24 years.  Until we reached the Borders, we had brilliant sunshine.  North Norfolk churches stood stoutly against a vivid blue sky, their dressed flints almost glistening in the sun.  After Newark, the motorway offered fewer tantalising delights, although Nottingham Forest made me think of Robin Hood, and with him all the old legendary images of green men - and green giants.  Ballads tell their stories; and my eighteenth-century ballad-collectors debated long and hard about which was the oldest, the most authentic, version. Now, we smile and nod as we go past - "Do you think we'll see Robin Hood today?" - and then it's gone, at 70 mph, and our conversation changes subject, just like that.

The sight of the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station chimneys had a different effect.  Suddenly, I was thinking about the "industrial north" that Norwich schoolgirls only encountered in their geography textbooks.  They're iconic, those chimneys - and they always mark a significant point in our journey.

The weather became greyer and even a bit drizzly as we drove up the A66.  I love the wildness of the countryside in the Borders.  How can I describe the difference from Norfolk?  Norfolk is basically quite flat, a tidy grandma's patchwork quilt of fields - whilst the Lincolnshire fens are to the Borders like a hospital room compared to the crumpled mess of a teenager's pad.


The Borders always make me think of Hannah Hauxwell, the old lady who lived a life of unbelievable hardship up in the hills near Barnard Castle.  I compare her staunch tenacity with another old lady about whom I've just been reading - May Savidge, who moved her whole house to Norfolk rather than let the planners demolish it for a roundabout.  They don't breed them like that any more!  I thoroughly enjoyed a book that I bought with my Christmas money this year - The Garden Cottage Diaries, by Fiona J. Houston.  Fiona actually lived the life of an eighteenth-century countrywoman for a whole year, just to see what it was like.  In some senses, Hannah and May shared some of those experiences.  But that was what life was like for my song-collectors.  Fascinating.

And then suddenly, there we were on the new M74 extension, hurtling along to join the M8 near our home in Glasgow.  What stood there 150-200 years ago, before the motorways and cars?  Just green fields and maybe a few cottages?  Before the tenements that had to be knocked down for the motorways themselves.  I'm fascinated by the idea of what preceded the realities that we know now.  Although my living in two parallel universes can sometimes prove just a bit confusing to the people closest to me!

Our Ancient National Airs: book on Ashgate website!

I realised at midnight last night - my book is already on the Ashgate website.  Publication date March 2013:-

Our Ancient National Airs: Scottish Song Collecting from the Enlightenment to the Romantic Era

Needless to say, I am rather excited!

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Writing Britain: a Sense of Place

I bought the book - I love it! - from the British Library Shop
We drove up from Norfolk to Glasgow today; the passing scenery reminded me of the British Library's Writing Britain exhibition and all those evocative texts and images.  (I can't believe it was less than a month ago that I was there.)  As I drove today, I thought I could write a piece of my own on the subject, but before I embark upon that, I need to do a bit of post-trip domesticity.

So meanwhile, I'll share a piece that I wrote a few months ago:-

Musical Ghosts

Studying Scottish songs changed my perspective on history

 Since I’m a musicologist - or, to be absolutely precise, a historian of late eighteenth and nineteenth century Scottish song collecting - I suppose I can be forgiven for a mild obsession with dates. You see, to me they’re not just dates.  They’re markers in a period of history that I know very well indeed.  After all, I probably know more people in early nineteenth century Edinburgh than I do today!   When I walk around Edinburgh,  in my imagination I’m stripping away the trappings of the twenty-first century, the traffic, the road-markings, the street-lamps and the gaudy gift-shops, watching out for old cobble-stones, and imagining a time before trams and even steam-trains.

I’m surrounded by the ghosts of James Hogg, Alexander Campbell, Sir Walter Scott, and George Farquhar Graham - the list goes on, I can assure you.    And when I went to an Edinburgh conference about the history of the book, in summer 2010, I could barely get up and down the stairs to the lecture theatre without being jostled by the ghosts of generations of university students.   It was quite a crush, though no-one else seemed to feel it!

I love the sense of history invoked by old things, too.  Before commencing my doctorate, I did a small piece of research into the Dundonian James Simpson’s three flute-books.  They had turned up in RSAMD Library during a refurbishment a few years ago, and I spent a few enjoyable weeks looking at the repertoire that Simpson had assembled: flute duets copied from an early nineteenth century flute instruction book; psalm tunes; and Scottish song settings.  It was fascinating to see where the different pieces had been gathered from.  Just as intriguing, though, was the biographical information I unearthed about Mr Simpson himself.  He was superintendent of a lodging house, but music was one of his passions, and his own son ended up co-proprietor of Methven Simpson, a music seller and publisher that continued to flourish in Dundee until halfway into the twentieth century. 

Preparing for a seminar that I was invited to give, I had the opportunity to take Simpson’s books back to Dundee, where I was actually able to lay them on the table in Myrekirk, the house that James Simpson bought towards the end of his working life.  There was a sense of completeness that these manuscripts, which had at some stage in the twentieth century been given to RSAMD Library, were just momentarily back under the roof where they must have lain for some years in the mid-nineteenth century, even if Simpson had begun their compilation in his younger bachelor days.

Having now completed my doctorate, I have a head so full of dates that I can barely read a concert programme without mentally comparing dates and working out what “my” collectors were up to at the same time.  If the music now being performed was composed in the early Victorian era, you can be sure that I’ll be calculating who was then musically active in Scotland. 

I heard a fabulous string quartet a few months ago, and the programme notes mentioned how old the players’ instruments were.  As I listened, I was thinking about what was going on in Scotland whilst these instruments were being made, and played, on the Continent.  I couldn’t help wondering where they were, and what was being played on them, while James Hogg was still a Borders shepherd, Robert Burns an excise officer, James Simpson practising his flute in Dundee, or George Farquhar Graham earnestly writing letters about Scottish songs in Edinburgh? 

But I don’t just compute musical coincidences!  Between string quartet pieces at that recital, I  worked out that all of their instruments pre-dated the Napoleonic Wars; some pre-dated James Macpherson’s Ossian epics; and one was made before the Scottish Act of Union.  I reflected that while those craftsmen were working away, they had absolutely no idea just how much the political climate in Europe was about to change. 

Briefly, I tried to get my head around the combined age of the quartet instruments, but it took me back earlier than the medieval plainsong manuscripts I once studied, and certainly earlier than my knowledge of all but the most rudimentary historical dates.

As the next item on the programme commenced, it was time to come back to the present day.   I resolutely immersed myself in the concert and dismissed my musical ghosts whence they had come. 

“Did you know”, I said to someone conversationally after the concert, “that the combined ages of those instruments takes you back before the Norman Conquest?”  And they looked at me as though I was quite mad.  Ah well, there you go, then.  Doctor Who probably experiences the same thing.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Somewhere in cyberspace

Right, that's the paper written and submitted.
Pittman, Brown and Mackay's song collection arrived today, and was there the slightest hint that we were talking about the same Colin Brown?  No.  But I did a bit of biographical, genealogical detective-work and decided it probably was one and the same.

Degas - Woman Ironing
Anyway, now that paper is winging its way through the ether, what shall I do next?  (Apart from the ironing, which doesn't excite me.)

I do have a couple more ideas - both requiring a bit of work, of course.  Maybe I should sleep on them for a while.

This was one of my ideas. Not sure if there's anywhere for it to GO, though.  Scottish singer John Wilson ...?

Sunday, 15 July 2012

More Victorian Friends

Colin Brown (Rob Allan's site on harmoniums &c)
Oh, my! I've acquired some more Victorian song-collecting friends.  Introducing Colin Brown and James Merrylees of late nineteenth-century Glasgow: they were Euing Lecturer and esteemed alumnus respectively, at Anderson's College, which became the University of Strathclyde nearly a century later.

Along the way, I also met a world-touring vocalist from the first part of the nineteenth century; and James Cuthbert Hadden, (1861–1914), whom Wikipedia describes as 'a prolific Scottish author, journalist, biographer and organist'.  Prolific?  You're not kidding!

But I digress.  My latest paper weighs in at 4,000 words.  It's just about finished, apart from waiting for a book to come from Amazon.  I need to know whether my 'new friend' Colin Brown was responsible for it, and the only way of establishing this was to order a second-hand copy and see if the introduction mentions where he was from.  I found a snippet of a review on Google Books, which at least assured me that it did have an introduction.  Ooh, I do hope it comes tomorrow!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Getting there!

Three and half thousand words later, and I'm about to write the conclusion of my paper.  Will I like it when I revisit it tomorrow, though?

There can't be many people who think about structuring a musicology paper, whilst thrashing up and down in the nearest leisure centre swimming pool!  Today I was allocating section headings and deciding what would better fit under a different heading, which made a change from my habit of 'mentally singing' hymn tunes and Scottish melodies to myself to while away the lengths.

Whale thinking (from The Telegraph)

I can't claim to have had any breakthroughs, really.  Apart from remembering my doctoral supervisor's advice to insert headings into a conference paper, in order to check that things followed on logically - that was the main inspiration.  And it definitely has helped.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Two weeks' holiday - fine time to get an idea!

I came across another Victorian Scottish songbook the other day - The Thistle, by Colin Brown and James Merrylees.  A bit of investigation revealed an indirect link with Strathclyde Uni.  SuperSleuth was off like a greyhound out of the hatch.

Which led to an idea for a paper.  I'm halfway through it - my evenings have seen me clattering away at the laptop - so, isn't it a good thing I've got a fortnight's holiday starting tonight?  I did have to buy a couple of old books on Amazon - luckily, inexpensive ones.

But if my book is published next year, it would - theoretically - be good to have other writing published around the same time.  So, there's good reason for this paper; I just need to get it written and submit it.  I have a target audience in mind ...

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Publication progress

It's only Tuesday evening, but this has been a comparatively exciting week.  Yesterday, my book was assigned an ISBN, and today I was contacted with questions about the contents page, the indexer, and the colour of the cover.  

I get to choose the colour!  Okay, I'm a truly sad individual to be so excited about something so superficial.  I've chosen a colour to match my business cards.  My CPD23 friends would be proud of me, to be taking my 'brand' so seriously!

But to get back to the ISBN- it doesn't yet come up on Amazon or Google, so forgive me for not sharing it yet.  I want to wait until it's nearer to being a 'real book' before I start telling people that.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Pining for my imaginary friends

Well, there was all the excitement of March and April - all those talks and lectures and getting the book manuscript ready to be sent off.  

Then came the sense of anticlimax - almost a vacuum.  I didn't know what to do with myself.  I wrote up one of the talks for my professional journal, and that helped. 

But now I'm getting withdrawal symptoms.  Not writing now seems to be more painful than writing/editing to a deadline.  In my spare time, I wrote a set of limericks for every instrument in the orchestra, working my way down the score.  It was fun and entertaining, but really no more satisfying than a bowl of popcorn when you actually need a meal!

There are days when my job is absorbing, and days when I feel I've made a difference, but in all honestly, being a librarian is often just a question of getting your head down and concentrating on minutiae.  But it doesn't necessarily satisfy my creative urge.  I need another research project!  (Shh, don't tell anyone ....)

Meanwhile, I'm waiting to hear how the book manuscript was received.  I got it into the best shape I could, but I'm a novice book author, so I've no idea how much more work is ahead of me!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Dropping in on Dundee

I have to say that the ghosts of my friends James Simpson and Andrew Wighton  were conspicuously absent when I went to Dundee for a librarianship meeting today.  It's always the same; if I'm thinking about the day-job, I am less likely to glimpse a Victorian coat-tail disappearing round a street-corner.  Nonetheless, I like to think they'd have been pleased I was tramping the streets that they'd have frequented one and a half centuries ago.

And my meeting was at the University of Dundee, which happens to be the University with the highest student satisfaction rate in the UK!  That's quite an accolade.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Silent Imaginary Friends

I crept up on my imaginary friends stealthily last night.  Wondering what to do with myself, I decided to write up the presentation that I delivered at the IAML (UK and Irl) Annual Study Weekend in Cardiff last month. 

Since I was writing as much about crowdsourcing, and Welsh bards, as about Scottish minstrels, not many of my imaginary friends got much of a look-in, to be honest.  Still, it was an interesting challenge to write about my research and other interests for a different audience.

Benjamin Zephaniah is a bit of a wild leap from late mediaeval Welsh bardic verse, but I think I achieved my intententions!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The suspense!

No more will be posted until I genuinely have something to report.  Watch this space ...

Monday, 30 April 2012

The Longest Journey

 Awa' tae the editorial offices

Alex peered out gloomily.  'Aren't we there yet?  We seem to have been travelling for days.  I thought you said rail-travel was quick!'

'So it is', William reassured him.  'It took you three MONTHS to cover 1200 miles, largely on foot, in 1815.  You're not grumbling about a weekend traveling from Scotland to England?'

Wearily, James opened his eyes, irritably elbowing his travelling-companions in the ribs.  'Considering we're travelliing First Class, I'd have expected to be there by now.  Hey, move over, you two.  There's nae room for my auld creekin' joints, the way you've spread yourselves out.  And you, Robert - do you have to stretch your legs out like that?  You've already taken up enough room in her book without literally occuping the whole coach!'

'Well, I like that!', Robert blustered.  'It's not my fault if she decided to expand my contribution from one chapter to two!  I didn't ask her to invite all those Welsh bards and Irish militants, either!  If you ask me, one harp is plenty.  An eisteddfod or harpers' convention is a guid few minstrels too many.  Anyway, you and William got a chapter between you - you got quoted verbatim every bit as much as I did!'

'James, you aye were a grumpy old curmudgeon', Andrew chipped in sociably.

'Ach, quit yer fightin', you lot!  All I can say is, the sooner we get there, the better', Alex sighed.  'I'm getting too old for long jaunts, what with the gout an' a' that!  Someone just tell me when we get to the offices!'

And with that, he closed his eyes wearily and dozed off again. He'd never expected to travel down to England at his advanced age.  Why, even his daughter died well over a century ago!


Suddenly, there was a jolt.  Then another.  The compatriots and their English companion were roughly bumped against one another.  Then again.  And again.

"Awright, mate?  There you go, then.  Delivery from Scotland ..."

The song-collectors exchanged anxious glances.  So ... had they reached their destination?

"Welcome to England" - as William Chappell might have said!

The majority of my imaginary friends (the Enlightenment and Victorian Scottish song collectors) have never been to England, but they've spent the weekend travelling down to Surrey in my manuscript submission.  By now they'll be gasping for air, not to mention their daily porridge.

The later Victorians are blase about it all, of course.  (The advent of railways made it so much easier to travel about.)  And Mr Chappell seems quite keen to demonstrate that England most certainly is NOT a Land without Music...

Saturday, 28 April 2012

The Evening After

From Seriph blog. They don't know me, but I love this image!
Feeling decidedly flat 

After a surfeit of excitement - lecturing and the book submission and a couple of conference papers, all in the space of one and a half months - suddenly I've stopped.  That's it; just the day-job and running a house and family!  My imaginary friends are nowhere to be seen; they've deserted me.  (Ho-hum!)

What on EARTH shall I do?  Already I'm looking for a new project of some sort ....

Friday, 27 April 2012

SubMission Accomplished

'Our Ancient National Airs' were saved to USB sticks, printed, parcelled and posted this morning.  Indeed, the parcel was in the mailvan before I was even back in my car!  By now, my book manuscript will be on its way down to the publisher.  I made the deadline.  Oh, yeah!

People are asking what I'm going to do next.  Well, speak at the Musica Scotica conference tomorrow, for a start.  And then try to remember what leisure-time actually is.  You know, I might go for a swim ...

We are "e-books" already!
Out of the chaos ...
Into the bag ..
Chauffeur-driven to the PO
And off to the sorting office

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Calm before the storm

Think of a storm - a real one or a musical one.  Now think of the calm before it.  The suspense.  The glancing at the grey-black sky with its ominous portent.  All hell is going to be let loose, sooner or later.

Here I sit, Thursday morning, having a quiet coffee before I go to give the last of my Strathclyde Lectures.  Thence on to my normal workplace for the afternoon.  So, is this the calm before the storm?  No, it's only a practice for the real storm tomorrow!

I'm sitting here with a laptop and a pink USB stick.  It's hard to imagine that they contain all I need for a book manuscript submission!  But it's true - all I need to to is print out the whole thing, save it various ways, and salley forth to the post office tomorrow.  So, there will be a flurry of activity the likes of which haven't been witnessed since my thesis submission on 1st July 2009 (see, I still remember the date!).  And then, ah then, I can fling a nice bottle of something celebratory into the supermarket trolley, and decide how and where to start tackling the backlog of STUFF that represents the rest of my daily life!

I'm familiar with 'what happens next' in magazine and scholarly journal contexts, but not with the book process.  So - meanwhile, I'll just keep blogging!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Where DID I get those words from?

No, I'm not referring to an un-sourced quotation.  (Heaven forbid!  That really would be most uncharacteristic of me.)  I'm continuing my informal listing of keywords for my future index, and I came across a paragraph that actually impressed me.  I must have been running on high-grade fuel the day I wrote that!  And for that matter, how did I come to know so many literary NAMES?  I've often joked that I know more dead Edinburgh folk than living ones.  Looking at my list, it's absolutely true!  Dozens of 18th and 19th century people from all over Scotland,and a good few from beyond the Scottish Borders.

All is right with the world today: my kind friend Daniel Dalet (we've never met, but he has been so helpful and generous in preparing my Scotland map for me) has inserted the names of Skye, Raasay, Scalpay and Stirling, and the map now provides the full context for my discussion of Alexander Campbell's tour round the Hebrides in 1815.

 Daniel hosts a fantastic resource called, which I'd commend to anyone needing a map for a book.  It's a really useful website!