I couldn’t help but notice this sentence from the obituary for the Chieftains’ fiddler Martin Fay in today’s Guardian:
Although he had a classical training, Fay had a natural understanding of traditional music.
That little word ‘although’ betrays an assumption that being ‘trained’ in one species of music makes it unlikely that you will be fluent in another. The history of the Scottish fiddle tradition certainly suggests that this is not the case: Mackintosh and Scott Skinner are two obvious examples that spring to mind. Note the contrast that the writer here draws between ‘classical training’ and ‘natural understanding’, implying that traditional music skills are innate rather than learned.
One of the aims of our research project is to challenge received notions about the interaction of oral and literate traditions: I think I just stumbled across two!
Finally, after years of preparation (yes, years) ‘bass culture’ is launched and under way. Barnaby is ensconced in Cambridge, Karen has two days a week away from her job at the Conservatoire, we have two very distinguished professors keeping a kindly and perceptive eye on the proceedings, and we have a budget – let the discoveries begin …
Karen and I have already been poring over 18th- and 19th-century fiddle books to get a rough overview of the kinds of material that we’re going to be dealing with. Last week up on floor 12 in Glasgow University Library, the nice folks at Special Collections gave us a room to ourselves with some key sources. It was the first time I’d looked through Alexander McGlashan’s fiddle books, and I was struck by the pure, uncompromisingly basic but brazenly confident style of the lines for bass fiddle. ‘King’ McGlashan’s band can’t have mucked about when they were playing the Edinburgh Assembly Rooms in the 1770s and Nathaniel Gow was serving his musical apprenticeship. Nathaniel’s own Select Collection (c.1815) includes, amongst many other things, a jig by Corelli, which he included because it was his father Niel’s favourite.
The Duke of Buccleuch has kindly lent the University a selection of music manuscripts from the Montagu Music Collection, and on a brief look through one of those, I came across a variant bassline for Miss Grace Stewart’s Minuet by Robert Mackintosh. It looks like it may be a later, slightly more elegant version than the one published in his Airs Minuets Gavotts and Reels of 1783. The original was fresh in my mind as in the past week we’ve finally mastered Concerto Caledonia’s Mackintosh album for release in the spring.