I have been nominated as “music tutor of the year” in the annual Scottish Traditional Music Awards.
I am working hard this week, preparing for three events in three days. On Saturday I am in Dundee; on Sunday in St Andrews and on Monday in London.
I was at Balgay parish church in Dundee today, presenting the replica Queen Mary harp and playing some old Scottish harp music. One elderly gentleman who was a member of the church guild and a piper was unable to attend but had sent in a question, saying he knew of a pipe tune which was a lament for the King, and which he believed was traditionally said to have been composed by an old harper out West.
I have been getting my records out, ready for next Wednesday’s event in the Wighton Centre, Dundee. I am getting nervous now, whether the machine will behave itself, and whether it will all run to time OK! I have about half an hour, and so I was thinking that perhaps 6 sides would be OK, though I do think I may overrun if I chat about each track! But I do want to include Gaelic song, Scots song, fiddle, pipes and clarsach, so that’s 5 sides instantly, and I have to play the disc with Marjory Kennedy-fraser at the piano. So we’ll see.
I am thinking I might also take along some of my other discs just to show off or for people to look at (and perhaps for requests after the event is over!). I have another 1914 “Scots song” disc, the Joseph Hislop disc, and one Jimmy Shand (from the ’40s I suppose) and one Harry Lauder which looks like it is from the teens. It’s not a huge collection but it is pretty diverse representation of Scottish music.
I thought of also taking the Mabel Dolmetsch discs to show as well, but they are just too fragile to risk travelling with and they can’t be played so I think there is no point.
You can get the full description of the event next Wednesday lunchtime on the Friends of Wighton news page.
I am wearied ma lane, pu’in breckens early. Tha mi sgith ’s mi leam fhìn, buain na rainich, daonnan. Cùl an tomain, bràigh an tomain, an tomain bhoidhich; h-uile la n’am onar.
I am tired, I am alone, pulling bracken, all the time. The back of the hill, the side of the hill. The pretty hill; every day I am alone.
This is a song we have been working on at my harp class in Dundee.
Last night we went to Dundee, as I was performing my concert on board the Unicorn. We travelled in early just so we could have an hour or so wandering around the centre of town to see if anything was happening.
In city square there were perhaps a thousand people with flags and music, very peaceful and friendly, lots of family groups. They organised a procession around the block, so we followed on at the end.
We left the gathering and headed down to the docks. The Unicorn is a really beautiful ship, genuinely old and not over-manicured like many historical things. On board, the captains cabin had been cleared and was set with chairs; the wine was laid out on a table ouside the cabin entrance, on the main deck. The ceilings on board are very low!
As it got dimmer, people started arriving. There was not a huge turnout, but the low ceilings and the homely atmosphere of the ship seemed to draw people out; everyone was talking to each other in unexpected intimacy.
For the first half of the concert, I played a selection of 18th century music, from the pibroch Maol Donn to the breezy baroque Blossom of the Raspberry. My fiddle tune went OK and was well received – especially with the story about it.
In the interval everyone went into the main deck for wine and conversation. This went on for quite a long time!
Then for the second half I played the Lament for the Union set. People were interested and sympathetic to the sentiments – it felt like a historic moment, thinking about the beginning of the Union in 1707, on the eve of the historic referendum to undo it. Especially with the evening glow from the docks through the windows…
Walking back up through the town late at night to the bus station to catch our ride home, we saw a battle of the billboards. Looks like Yes is winning this one!
As well as doing some work canvassing for the referendum, I have been preparing for a couple of forthcoming events in Dundee. On Wednesday 1st October I am presenting Scottish music 78s for the Wighton lunchtime concert, though more imminent is my concert on Wednesday 17th September, on the eve of the referendum. I’m playing the harp in the elegant and unusual setting of the captain’s cabin on board HMS Unicorn, moored in Dundee docks. This classy wood-panneled room will be a lovely setting for the replica Queen Mary harp. There will be an interval with a glass of wine, and for the second half I am planning to play my “Lament for the Union” programme.
For the first half though, I am thinking of continuing the “300 years ago” theme with a selection of 18th century harp music. Normally I use the Downhill harp for that, but I know the Dundee people love the Queen Mary replica, and I only recently commandeered the Downhill back from my student who has it, so I am thinking laterally. Perhaps one of the ports played by John Robertson on the original Queen Mary harp in the early 1700s will allow me to joke about “Port Athol, Port Gordon and Port Seton” given the nautical setting!
I am also thinking that, as I always like to in a longer performance, I should pull something completely different out as a novelty and so I am thinking of playing a tune on the fiddle. Port na bPucaí has a suitable marine story to go with it and I think might be a nice suprise item. I just have to practice enough to be able to play it convincingly! We’ll see if my resolve can hold until next week!
Today in the harp class in Dundee we had fun trying out harp accompaniment to medieval bardic poetry! Everyone was very game!
We looked at the poem which was the centrepiece of Wednesday’s concert, Ceannaig Duain T-Athar a Aonghas (pay for your father’s poem, Angus). It is addressed to Aonghas Mòr, the father of Aonghas Og the companion of Robert the Bruce and the leader of the Islesmen at the Battle of Bannockburn in June 1314. (The picture here shows Angus Og’s gravestone on Iona – see Ian MacDonnell’s work for more info).
Ní fhuil a nÉirinn ná a nAlbainn
Aonghas mar thusa, a thaobh seang
Aonghais fháid bhraonghlais an Bhroga
láid, a Aonghais, comha ad cheann.
In Ireland or in Scotland, there is not another Aonghas like you! You graceful form! May Aonghus of the dewy grass of Newgrange, send you gifts, Aonghus!
(Aonghus an Bhroga was the chieftain of the Tuatha Dé Danann, son of the Dagda, and lived at Brú na Bóinne i.e. Newgrange)
It’s pretty sycophantic stuff, extended ego-stroking of the rich and powerful Lord of the Isles, effectively the King of the West of Scotland, but it is also subtle and powerful word – magic, and the voice of the harp supporting and helping to project the verbal presentation of the complex nested ideas has a lot of presence and power.