Reeling in the Strathspey: Re-evaluating its Origins

Report
The Strathspey in Scottish Music:
Early History and Development
Scots Fiddle Festival
23 November 2013
Dr Will Lamb
University of Edinburgh
Outline of talk
• Overview: definitions and main positions
• Semantics of ‘fused’ music-dance categories
– Why we get confused by the early collections
• Gaelic song
– The ultimate roots of the strathspey
• Conventionalisation as a ‘tune type’
– How the strathspey got its name
Main Positions
• The rhythm associated with the strathspey is so
ubiquitous in Gaelic ‘motion’ song that it must
have developed as part of that tradition
• Before being conventionalised as a ‘tune type’ in
the 18th century, it was a general style of dance
music and song amongst Gaelic speakers
• As a tune type, it was a culture graft: a product of
contact between Anglo and Gaelic society
– Strathspey was a dynamic nexus point between these
cultures
Many Faces of the Strathspey
1. As a rhythmic ‘meme’ permeating Scottish
musical culture, esp Gaelic song
2. As a type of instrumental dance music
3. As a slow form of ‘listening’ music
4. As a type of dance
Strathspeys: standard account
• It is a type of fiddle music (Collinson 1966)
• Conceived in the 18th century, in the Speyside
area of the Highlands (Doherty 1999).
• Earliest players were the Browns, of
Kincardine-on-Spey, and the Cummings, of
Grantown-on-Spey (Bruford 1994).
Strathspeys and Reels: Modern
Definitions
• Strathspey: slow pointed tune in common
time (4/4) with dotted notes and ‘Scots snaps’
• Reel: fast round tune in alla breve (‘cut time’:
2/2) with smooth, regular quavers
Angus Cumming’s collection (1780)
Two Strathspeys from Cumming (1780)
Strathspey?✔
Strathspey??
✖ Reel
Diverse tune or dynamic dance?
Francis Peacock: dance master
(1723-1807)
Marked no distinction in the steps for the
strathspey versus the reel.
Additionally: said that the strathspey was
found across the Highland region.
The strathspey, in Cumming’s time,
was not a tune type.
It was a semantic fusion.
It was a dance-music complex
incorporating a tempo change and
pointed rhythm.
Semantic fusion: Gaelic song
‘I never heard my friends in Glendale hum or sing an
old tune without words. To them the words and the
air were inseparable.’ --Margaret Fay Shaw 1955: 76
‘The tune without the words is as a voice without a
mouth.’ --Martin Freeman 1920-21: xxv
Synecdoche: when a part is used to
describe a whole
Reel
(Music)
Reel
(Song)
Reel
(Dance)
Dance Songs
‘[The titles in this collection are] the original Gaelic
designations by which the [tunes] have been known in
the Highlands ... These designations consist generally of
something peculiar or striking in the verse or verses to
which they were composed’
--Wm Gunn (1848): Preface to the Caledonian Repository
of pipe music
’S ann an Ìle (strathspey)
Hugh Duncan, Islay
Strathspey followed by reel: normal speed
A Chur nan Gobhar às a’ Chreig (Reel)
Hugh Duncan, Islay
Strathspey at normal tempo followed by 3rd
part of reel, stretched to the same tempo
Nuair a Bha Mi an Cùl a’ Bhealaich (Reel)
Jonathan MacDonald, Skye
Text
Strathspey at normal tempo followed by 3rd
part of reel, stretched to the same tempo
Ruidhlidh Mo Nighean Donn (Reel: bars 9-12)
Peggy MacRae, South Uist
Slowed down slightly
17
Pretty Marion: Pipe Reel
Rona Lightfoot, South Uist
Strathspey (end of Moneymusk) in normal tempo
followed by 3rd part of reel (Pretty Marion), stretched to same tempo
Brà Brà Bleith: Quern Song
Annie Johnson, Barra
Normal speed
Griogal Cridhe: Lullaby
Jessie MacKenzie, Lewis
Normal Speed
Griogal Cridhe cont
Sped up to strathspey tempo
21
Cò Sheinneadh an Fhìdeag Airgid:
Waulking song
From Waulking Songs of Barra
Sped up to strathspey tempo
In both the playing and singing of reels
and slower work songs one finds an
underlying strathspey feel, when
performed by Gaelic speakers
Is the ‘strathspey’ a wide, underlying
rhythmic matrix for Gaelic song
associated with movement?
Aboriginal concept of ‘Dancing’
‘Yoi is defined by the Tiwi not only as the dance, to dance, and
the social event (that includes dance), but also as the songs used
for dance, the rhythm of these songs, and to sing for dance. Thus
yoi denotes the whole event’ (Grau 1983: 32)
Motion-song in early Gaelic culture
< luinne ‘ferocity of the dance’?
Possible evolution of Luinneagan (pl.)
Struc
tural
Movediver
ment sions
coord
inate
d
with
Timeline
Disas
socia
tion
of
song
and
danc
e
Why was it called the ‘strathspey’?
• The strathspey, as a form of dance music, first
entered the written record in the 1740s
• At this time, the Spey valley region was on the
border between Anglo and Gaelic society
• The rhythm is likely to have been noticed by
violin playing nobility, or musicians in their
employ
• The strathspey - as we know it today - is a
product of this intercultural contact: a culture
graft
Place-names in Scottish Fiddle
Collections (Gore)
Category
Dedications to noble personage
Proportion of total placenames
54%
Geographical features/ settlements
19%
Baronial houses
7%
Other dedications
6%
Transportation (roads and bridges)
4%
Misc
10%
Ex. ‘Lord Kinnaird’; ‘The Duchess of Argyll’; ‘Castle Grant’
Place-names in
Tune
Collections
1700-1749
NAIRN
ELGIN
FOCHABERS
INVERNESS
§
27
17
FT WILLIAM
§
30
17
DUNKELD
PERTH
Key
Place-name in music
books and mss
Other place-name
Highland-line
Wade’s roads
Inter-cultural zone
EDINBURGH
Place-names in Tune
Collections 1750-1783
NAIRN
FOCHABERS
INVERNESS
17
27
• Musical zone much bigger
• Many areas of the
Gaidhealtachd still ‘off the
map’
• Ross-shire
• Sutherland
• The Hebrides (except
Mull and Skye)
ELGIN
1763
FT AUGUSTUS 17
§
30
FT WILLIAM
§
DUNKELD
EDINBURGH
Importance of Place-names
• Provide us with evidence of intercultural
contact
• Show that the Spey valley area was accessible
to Anglo musical society
• Shows the absence of such contact in large
swathes of the Highlands
• The moniker - the ‘strathspey’ swallowed up
earlier airs featuring the meme
Summary
The underlying rhythm of the strathspey is so
ubiquitous in Gaelic songs connected to
motion, that it must must have developed as
part of that tradition
A vestige of a complex of language, movement
and music that once existed in Gaelic society
As a ‘tune type’, it is a culture graft: a product
of contact between Anglo and Gaelic society

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