An Essential Blog – The Fiddle in the Scottish Folk Music Revival

Here’s a very useful blog by Stuart Eydmann, “established during his term as Traditional Artist in Residence 2013/14, in Celtic and Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh”:-

The Fiddle in the Scottish Folk Music Revival.

For a start, there’s a posting about portraits of Niel Gow … and another about Charles Bayne, Dundonian dancie …

But Who Were They? Bass Culture Goes Biographical

We’ll be giving some biographical information about “our” fiddle tune composers and compilers, but we’re not biographers per se.  Therefore, we’re just noting where our information was drawn from.  It’s mainly from some very obvious places!  Here’s the beginning of a list …

  • Baptie, David, Musical Scotland: Past and Present (1894)
  • Bulloch, John Malcolm, William Marshall: the Scots composer, 1748-1833 (1933)
  • Cowie, Moyra, William Marshall : the Scots composer, 1748-1833 (1999)
  • The Glen Collection of Scottish Dance Music (1891 and 1895 volumes)
  • Gore, Charles, The Scottish Fiddle Music Index (1994)
  • Gore, Charles, The Scottish Music Index [digitized reissue of the above]
  • Murdoch, A, The fiddle in Scotland: comprising sketches of Scotch fiddlers and fiddle makers (1888)
  • Oxford Music Online


Rolling Stones or Snowballs? The Countdown …

They say that a rolling stone gathers no moss. On the other hand, a snowman starts with a snowball, and a pearl with a grain of sand.

Last week’s Bass Culture plenary faced the reality of our October 2015 deadline hurtling towards us with increasing speed (not so much a rolling stone as an avalanche), as we contemplated what needed to be done before that date.

We looked with interest at another project involving MEI – the Lost Voices Project (“Companion resource to Les livres de Chansons Nouvelles de Nicolas Du Chemin (1549–1568), hosted by the Centre d’Études Supérieures de la Renaissance in Tours, France”), in which Zoltan has also had a hand.  It’s great to see MEI in use, and to begin to imagine what our own functionality might look like.

So what do we need to achieve?  There’s the website (  Karen has input the relevant data into our BIG, detailed spreadsheet for the books that have been digitized, and now needs to edit the main spreadsheet – much longer but not quite as wide!

We’re still hoping to get some more incipits transcribed, and David and Barnaby are planning recordings, with David looking forward to the North Atlantic Fiddle Convention in Cape Breton this October.  And of course, there’s also the necessary planning to keep the whole website running after our project officially ends.

Does that sound busy?  Too true!  So with that, and preferring the snowball metaphor to that of a rolling stone, it’s time to get back to that thumping bass …

Just a wee comment – there’s just a holding page at at the present time of writing. But do bookmark it, because that’s where it will all be happening when we launch the website!



Miss Marple Turns Fiddle Detective

Sometimes a question just leaps out at you, doesn’t it?  Today, we’ve discovered that it is very hard to trace copies of  Flowers of Scottish Melody, a book of tunes compiled by J. Murdoch Henderson, who was a serious expert in Scottish fiddle collection bibliography.  It doesn’t look anything special from the cover, but if Henderson had a hand in it, then there ought to be more copies in libraries.  There are very few.  Indeed, a reprint was made some 30 years ago, and there aren’t even any of those available for purchase. If you see one, do tell us.  (Glasgow University Library and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland could both do with a copy!)   That was our first piece of detective work, with no fruitful results.

The next was easier.  Who was Mrs Garden of Troup (Troop)?  There are enough collections with strathspeys written for Mrs, or Miss Garden of Troup.  Stuart Eydmann leapt to our rescue.  There’s plenty of information available in The Fiddler’s Companion – an online resource that MUST go into our web-resource list eventually –  (The Fiddler’s Companion)

However, there are also other places to look for information, and Stuart reminded us that municipal archives often hold masses of information.  In this instance, the city of Aberdeen has a huge archive of material about the Garden family of Troup.  We don’t really have time to pursue this, but isn’t it great to know there’s so much out there?




Finding Fiddle Books

Do we hear the plaintive question, “When are you going to tell us where all these fiddle books are kept?”

Our website will list loads of locations, but as I’ve mentioned, somewhere we’ll also have to have a page of useful links to other information sources.

  • RISM is a huge bibliographic resource listing printed and manuscript materials.  The one you need for early printed fiddle collections is the book for printed sources pre-1800 (Einzeldrücke vor 1800) by the Joint Committee for the Publication of the International Inventory of Musical Sources, edited by Karlheinz Schlager) is a great multi-volume resource – in its big, fat books on library shelves, or in CD-rom format.  These books listing printed sources pre-1800 are not available online, though.
  • If you come across old references to BUCEM, do take them seriously.  They’re another bibliographic tool available in reference libraries.  The British Union Catalogue of Early Music printed before the year 1801, edited by Edith B. Schnapper, comes in two volumes.  It’s old now – it was published in 1957.  However, if BUCEM says a library has something, go check it out in a modern resource, whether RISM or via online catalogues.  Fiddle books from the eighteenth century are precious commodities, so they’re probably still going to be in the same libraries, even if the shelf-number might have changed.  BUCEM was “the” bible for dating early music collections for many years and is still a useful place to look.
  • Most people in university circles ought to know of – the union catalogue of all UK university and national libraries.  Anyone can consult it.  If you’re not in higher education, it’s still worth contacting libraries directly to ask if you can pay a visit.  Early fiddle books are kept for reference in special collections, but you may be allowed to visit.  (Be warned – you won’t be allowed to use a pen, so take a pencil and rubber as well as your laptop or tablet!)
  • Be prepared for the rather arcane and obscure procedures in special collections!  Books need to be ordered and fetched for you.  And they may not even be listed online.  For example, Glasgow’s Mitchell Library has a fantastic collection, but you need to consult a card catalogue to trace items.  Allow much more time than you’d expect to spend, particularly on your first visit!
  • Lastly, can we mention a useful book that is just a listing, and NOT exactly a finding tool:- Music Entries at Stationers’ Hall, 1710–1818 : from lists prepared for William Hawes, D.W. Krummel and Alan Tyson and from other sources (Ashgate, 2004).  Although it gives British Library shelfmarks for some items, it seldom mentions other libraries, despite the compiler having consulted Copac.  We also know that, whilst it’s as complete as it can be, the original Stationers’ Hall lists weren’t comprehensive. Nonetheless, it can be handy for verifying details such as dates, if the publishers submitted the details to Stationers’ Hall in the first place!


Discussion Hots Up

We’re gratified to find that our observations about these fiddle collections are attracting interest!

Sometimes little tiny discoveries come like a ray of sunshine into the routine entering of data into our mega-spreadsheet.  For example, today we found a new source of information that sheds light on the selling activities of our music vendors.  Andrew Rochead, who reissued Robert Petrie’s first Collection of Strathspey Reels and Country Dances, also made and sold square pianos – there are two examples in the University of Edinburgh’s Musical Instrument Museums. There’s a useful database to take note of!

But it gets better.  In 1808, Niel Gow edited and reissued Petrie’s Second Collection.  Muir Wood reissued Petrie’s Third Collection the same year. And Rochead reissued the first collection circa 1809, according to the University of Glasgow’s Special Collections cataloguers.  Or was it? What’s the betting it was 1808, prompting Gow and Rochead to rush forth and get their share of what was obviously hot property?

Ronnie Gibson, doctoral researcher at the University of Aberdeen, tells us that, “Nath Gow judged him the best at competition in 1822 held in conjunction with George IV’s visit to Scotland, so he must’ve been at least ok!”

Petrie lived 1767-1830, so he was in his mid-forties at that competition.  Thankfully musicians remain at the top of their professions for longer than sportspeople!

The question was raised about copyright – had the copyright expired? Well … no, it hadn’t.  Existing legislation provided for 14 years after publication, or 28 if the author was still alive after 14.  So – let’s do our calculations!

  • Book 1 – 1790-1804; Petrie lived on so he got another 14 years copyright
  • Book 2 – 1795-1809; Petrie’s still alive so …
  • Book 3 – 1800-1814; Petrie’s barely 40
  • Book 4 – 1805-1819; Petrie’s still around – and has that competition to play in yet!

One wonders what Petrie got out of these reprinted publications. Here’s hoping he got something.

The Devil is in the Detail (or, A Rose by any other Name …)

At last week’s Bass Culture get-together, we got down to the minutiae of data entry – the mind-numbing but crucial detail determining how the website will ultimately look.  If James Aird is entered as “Aird, James” once, then all names will always be entered in indirect order.  “Jas. Aird” becomes an alternative in another column, and “N.Stewart” must be looked up to double-check if he’s “Neil” or “Niel”.

Enter the Scottish Book Trade Index – one of Karen’s favourite websites, hosted by the National Library of Scotland.  It’s fantastic for checking names and addresses of anyone connected with the Scottish Book Trade up to 1850 – ideal for our project.  It simply must feature in our website bibliography page!

The Librarian’s Instinct to Share

As mentioned already, we’ve reached the real nitty-gritty stage of entering the details of our works and sources onto a huge database.  Suddenly, the minutiae of different copies, printings and editions come into sharp focus, and library shelf-marks of individual copies become of crucial importance.  The inestimable is fantastic, but it doesn’t include public libraries (Dundee and Perth are crucially important to us) or specialist collections like the Vaughan Williams Library at EFDSS (the English Folk Dance and Song Society).

So if we want to tell you about ALL the copies in existence, or even just those we’ve encountered so far, this becomes a bit tricky!  What’s more, Karen reminds us that we probably ought also to share useful bibliographical articles like the ones about Aberdeen University Library’s early music collections.  There’s an initial article by Barry Cooper in the RMA Research Chronicle vol.14 (1978) covering not only the university but also Aberdeen’s public library; another by Cooper and former Aberdeen librarian Richard Turbet (vol.23), and two further articles by Turbet in vols. 30 and 30 of the same journal.  Although these are accessible via the JSTOR or Taylor and Francis online databases, they’re sadly hidden behind subscription gateways, so it’s a bit more difficult for non-academic readers to gain access to them.

Yes, we really do need a place for a bibliography on our HmsScot website when it goes live!

Harps and Harpsichords as well as Fiddles and Bass!

Australian researcher Rosemary Richards spotted a reference to the Marchioness of Huntly in Karen’s recently published paper about the Bass Culture project, published in Brio last year (Vol. 51, No. 2, pp. 16-22), ‘From Historical Collections to Metadata: a Case Study in Scottish Musical Inheritance’.  We had highlighted the changes in accompaniment style between different editions of Marshall’s Scottish Airs, and Rosemary picked up on this:-

“Getting back to your comparison in your article of the two editions of Marshall’s tunes, it is interesting that the plainness of the harmonisation in the 1822 edition was at the time when Beethoven was nearly on his last legs.

“Marshall was over 20 years older than Beethoven and came from a different musical background so it’s not so surprising but the realisation suggested in the later 1845 Marshall edition is also not very lush.”

Rosemary is also intrigued by a tune we quoted, as it’s dedicated to the Marchioness of Huntly – a family in whom she takes a historical interest:-

“The Marchioness of Huntly whose strathspey was included in Marshall’s collections was the stepmother of Georgiana McCrae.  William Marshall was the butler amongst other jobs for the Marchioness’s father-in-law and Georgiana’s grandfather, the 4th Duke of Gordon.”

Straight away, Rosemary started wondering what else we had uncovered dedicated to the estimable, and music-loving Marchioness.  Several pieces, as it happens.

Rosemary comments,

“The Bass Culture Project is based on fiddle and pipe books, but people like Georgiana McCrae, her stepmother the Marchioness of Huntly (Fifth Duchess of Gordon) and Sir Walter Scott’s daughter Sophia were playing these same pieces on keyboard instruments or harp – so I’m wondering how you’re dealing with that?”

One of the fascinating aspects of this project is its breadth: while we’ve been focusing on the accompaniments, and changing styles from elegant baroque to  thumping bass and back to elegant harpsichord (or increasingly, piano), there are also hundreds of stories to be told about the people who wrote, collected, used or had pieces dedicated to them.  How many dedicatees find a place in this repertoire? This is one of life’s imponderables, but there are tales of patronage, of musical interests amongst the nobility, of dances at big houses and amateur music-making at small ones …

And indeed – a totally disconnected fact but a pleasing coincidence – Karen’s great-grandfather-in-law was the bass player for gigs at Fyvie Castle during the winter months when there was little work for stonemasons …

New Year’s Resolutions in Bass Culture Territory

For the first couple of years of the project, we worked on a huge spreadsheet of all our fiddle tune-books.  It seemed a bit unmanageable at times, but compared to the new MEI-enabled spreadsheet, it was merely a tiny little table!  The photo in our last blogpost shows just TWO sample entries of the hundreds that will end up being entered there.  Comparing the preliminary and MEI spreadsheets is like comparing a house with a high-rise block of flats.

So here we are in the new year: 2015, and with the end of the project looming on the horizon.  Entering source details inevitably raises questions about things that really looked very straightforward at the time.  DID that bound volume contain all three publications by the author?  Oh, here’s a second edition. (That makes it a new source, but categorically NOT a new work …)  Such basic details have to be sorted out now.  And then there are the details we’ll have to remember before the website goes live.  And the tiny questions that require answers, but can’t be answered until the donkey-work of data entry is further along the line, or we’ll never get the donkey-work done!

  1. Luca and Karen agreed that we need a “legend” – a list of words where there are different spellings, so that the computer search can take into account such “synonyms” when encountered.  If a user searches for MacGlashan, for example, then the system has to retrieve McGlashan – our preferred spelling.  Similarly, if a tune title includes archaic spellings, or just plain misspellings of words, then the user may enter a modern or correct spelling but we need to be sure they’ll also retrieve the item with its original published spelling.
  2. Consistency in the finer details.  Pagination is entered thus:- 31 p (not 31p, 31 pp, or 31 pp.)  Check COPAC, and you’ll catch different libraries adopting different styles.  We have to adopt one standard and stick to it – the user may not even notice, but it does look better!
  3. We need to define terminology.  For example, we know what Murkys are (broken octaves in quavers), but we can’t predict what terminology will be familiar to someone searching the database at a later date.
  4. We need to flag the “questions for later”, so that we can address them if there’s time.
  5. We’ve listed our published outputs and conference papers on a separate research database, but we’ll need to include a bibliography on the Bass Culture website, too.
  6. Only a day later, and we’ve thought of another important requirement for our website – a tab for listing key online info that we’ve found useful.  (Karen has been saving things to her Diigo bookmarking account.)  First up – the Scottish Book Trade Index at the National Library of Scotland.  Invaluable!

Enough for now!  It’s not so much “fiddling while Rome burns”, as “Blogging while Fiddle sources are to be entered up!”