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  'Hunting down unpublished books?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.

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