A Tribute to J. Scott Skinner

James Scott Skinner (1843-1927), “The Strathspey King” was born in Banchory.

He started his young musical career playing violincello for his elder brother, Sandy, and later for the celebrated Aberdeen fiddler and teacher Peter Milne.

At a still early age, he became part of a young group – “Dr Mark’s Little Men” – in which he received a most thorough classical training during tours throughout the United Kingdom.

On his return to the north east, whilst still in his late teens, he embarked upon a career in music.

Skinner was known as a dancing master, concert performer on violin and prolific composer.

He wrote some of the most beautiful airs, marches, lively Strathspeys and exciting reels ever composed in this idiom – music which has maintained its influence and popularity since his death in 1927.

In programme notes written by the SFO’s original Musical Director, John Mason, John described the March, Strathspey and Reel set of “Compliments to Dr. MacDonald”, “The Laird o’ Drumblair” and “Davie Work” as “probably the most powerful and popular of Skinner’s tunes”.

  • The first is dedicated to Dr. MacDonald the Collector of so much Scottish music.
  • The second (and arguably the most famous Strathspey ever composed) to William F. McHardy who owned the estate of Drumblair and who accorded Skinner one of his cottages during a particularly difficult time in Skinner’s life. (Incidentally, Skinner also dedicated his other great Strathspey “The Iron Man” – and other compositions – to McHardy who had made his fortune in railroads).
  • Davie Work was an Orcadian fiddler who settled in Glasgow and became the founder of the Glasgow Caledonian Strathspey and Reel Society over 100 years ago.

The short video below features clips from each of the three tunes.

SFO concerts generally feature at least one March, Strathspey and Reel set. Often, it is a celebration of the music of J. Scott Skinner, who is arguably the most important composer in the history of Scottish Fiddle Music.

P.S. Please consider making a donation to the SFO’s Just Giving Appeal.

John Mason’s Salute to Cape Breton

The SFO is set to tour the north eastern seaboard of the USA and Canada in March and April 2020.

The tour will include a concert in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Tartan Day 2020, 06 April 2020.

To quote Wikipedia:

“Cape Breton fiddling is a regional violin style which falls within the Celtic music idiom. Cape Breton Island’s fiddle music was brought to North America by Scottish immigrants during the Highland Clearances. These Scottish immigrants were primarily from Gaelic-speaking regions in the Scottish Highlands and the Outer Hebrides. Although fiddling has changed considerably since this time in Scotland, it is widely held that the tradition of Scottish fiddle music has been better preserved in Cape Breton.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cape_Breton_fiddling

This article is a personal tribute to the fiddle music of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, via a set of tunes played by the legendary group of fiddlers, the Cape Breton Symphony Fiddle.

The set of tunes features compositions by giants of both the Scottish and Cape Breton fiddle traditions.

One of the composers is John Mason, the leading light in the foundation and formation of the SFO in 1980.

[Read more…]

Scottish Fiddle Music versus Irish Fiddle Music (a non-competitive duel)

Window sign - "Unicorn this way" - at Blarney Castle, Co. Cork, Ireland

In one of several well-known online variations on a theme, words attributed to the 16th President of the USA, Abraham Lincoln (who died in 1865), have him commenting that “The thing about quotes from the internet is that it’s hard to verify their authenticity.”

One music-related quote you can find on the internet has been variously linked to Laurie Anderson, Steve Martin, Frank Zappa, Elvis Costello and Thelonius Monk. It is:

“Talking (or writing) about music is like dancing about architecture.”

An analysis on quoteinvestigator.com, suggests it was the humorist, Martin Mull, who originated that version of the statement. An alternative has it that it is “like singing about economics”.

The problem highlighted seems to be that talking about music is pointless because it is its own language. [Read more…]

The world’s largest ever fiddlers’ rally?

The Golden Fiddle Awards

Scottish traditions and culture feature in various ways in the Guinness World Records:

  • ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is one of the most frequently sung songs in English. Some of its words were written by Robert Burns himself.

The term “Fiddlers’ Rally” was coined in the early 1970s.

It was used to describe the public concert held during the annual Gaelic Mod for the competitors from the various fiddle societies from across Scotland. [Read more…]

How Willafjord Was Found

Icy Landscape, Greenland - Jan Erik Waider - Unsplash.com

From the time that Columbus found the land mass of America barring his way westwards in 1492, many explorers braved the bleak Arctic regions in search of the elusive Northwest Passage.

It was believed that a navigable channel must exist which connected the North Atlantic with the Pacific Ocean.

Though this indeed turned out to be true, the search was lengthy. For hundreds of years, all expeditions ended in failure and some in tragedy – usually due to ships becoming trapped in the ice.

It was the mid-19th century before a feasible route for the Northwest Passage was identified.

This was in the wake of Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated British expedition in 1845, all of whose members perished on the ice.

The Passage was not successfully navigated until the 20th century. It was future South Pole discoverer, Roald Amundsen, who made the first full transit by sea between 1903 and 1906. A link had finally been made between a name – ‘Northwest Passage’ – and a physical place (or, in this case, route), allowing it to be plotted on maps.

Fiddle music has a recent instance of a name finally finding a connection to a physical place in chilly climes. It is perhaps more a case of the rediscovery of a link which had become lost by the passage of time but considerable detective work was required nonetheless. [Read more…]

Free Sheet Music for Fiddlers

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Via our Facebook page, a piper based in Santiago, Chile, recently requested the sheet music for the Eightsome Reel as played by the SFO.

Using the fantastic resource that is The Session website – even though it’s meant primarily for Irish, not Scottish, tunes – we were able t0 give him a good idea of the melody lines to Mrs McLeod of Raasay, The Fairy Dance, The De’il Amang the Tailors (2nd setting), Soldier’s Joy, The Mason’s Apron (7th setting), Staten Island, and Kate Dalrymple.

This all prompted thoughts about where else on the internet you can obtain free sheet music for fiddlers and the following few locations sprang to mind. [Read more…]