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.

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