Saturday, 12 January 2013

Crescendo of Excitement as Publication Date Approaches

Well, folks - it's happening.  Our Ancient National Airs is going to the printers, and by mid-February there will be copies in the warehouse.  And I'll have mine!  The official publication date isn't until 28th March; by then we'll have scheduled a book launch in the Whittaker Library at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland - and there's also going to be an event in Edinburgh at the Musica Scotica one-day conference on 27th April.

It seems a long time since I discovered three old flute manuscripts in 2002.  Not that they got a mention in my PhD thesis, or the subsequent book, but they were the impetus to get me back into research again.  From 15th century English polyphony to Enlightenment and Romantic Scottish song collections, via a Dundonian lodging-house keeper's private flute music collection - a long and very interesting journey!

James Simpson (the Dundonian flautist) collected largely, but not exclusively, psalm tunes and Scottish songs arranged for two or three flutes.  I think he copied some of his pieces from published books, and others were either his own or maybe friends' arrangements.  These weren't always top-quality settings, but I'm sure they gave him pleasure as he performed them with friends.  I'm reminded of him as I work on my latest project - arranging suites of Scottish songs for small chamber ensembles.  The tunes are from Alexander Campbell's Albyn's Anthology, and so far I've done a trio for flute, viola and cello - subsequently rearranged for sax trio - and half of a suite for saxophone quartet.

I've also been thinking about my Scottish song-collectors, and the decisions they had to make as they compiled their own anthologies.  Questions of authenticity, and which version of a tune to set, not to mention how complicated to make the arrangement, which chords to use, and how far to preserve the modality.  I've written so much about these questions, but I'm led to conclude that you really have to undertake the task yourself, in order fully to appreciate what is entailed.

Yes - I might well try to get some of my settings performed at the book-launch, alongside the historic settings from my Scottish song-collectors' collections.  Because a driving factor for me, all along, is to find out more, and share my findings, in order to inform today's Scottish musicians of their illustrious (and not-so-illustrious) predecessors' activities.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Edinburgh's Musical Ghosts

I had very little to do with John Graham Dalyell when I was doing my PhD.  (Indeed, I just checked my book index - he isn't there at all!)  However, I discovered last week that he wrote a manuscript on The Musical Practice of Scotland, which sounded so appropriate to our AHRC research project that I simply had to see it.  Off I went to Edinburgh University Library Research Collections today.
Walking up News Steps, I was aware that the ghost of John Callander, Esq, was at my elbow.  He's a real killjoy!  

'At your usual tricks again?', he murmured slyly.  'Hunting down unpublished books?  You won't find anything.  Dalyell didn't publish The Musical Practice of Scotland, did he?'

Well, no.  He published Musical Memoirs, but never published this companion volume - all two volumes of it.  Hundreds of pages of small, faded, closely-written manuscript - very hard to read, actually.

However, quite apart from the fact that it would have taken days to read, and months to transcribe, I learned a salutary lesson.  When we talk of practice-based research, or musical practice, we mean a discussion of the practicalities of music-making, whether performance or composition.

Dalyell meant something different.  He was simply reporting what people said about what was played, primarily in the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries.  (Here's a minstrel being mentioned in the mid-1500s; and here's an Enlightenment society putting on a concert.)  And I believe he must have made copious notes on the Edinburgh Musical Society's Sederunt books.  (These were volumes I saw just before Christmas on my last trip to Edinburgh.)  But if I thought I was going to find erudite discussion of what the cellist did when accompanying dance music - I was disappointed.

I had an enjoyable morning. I also saw Dalyell's carefully-compiled indices, and a folder of beatuiful drawings and illustrations of musicians and musical instruments, largely drawn from mediaeval sculptures.  

Then I paid my pilgrimage to George Square, where Sir Walter Scott lived in childhood - and had lunch with a friend before going home.  Since I had company, none of my musical ghosts said a word as I made my way back to Edinburgh Waverley.  I think Mr Callander was sulking, to be honest.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Musica Scotica, 27 April 2013, Edinburgh

 This has nothing to do with my book, my writing, or my imaginary friends.  (Well, it does to a certain extent, since I've submitted an abstract about two of my imaginary friends in particular...)

Musica Scotica conference is 27 April at the Open University in Scotland premises in Edinburgh. Here's the CFP - please consider submitting an abstract!