This is a an introductory ethnographic account of one of the
liveliest musical sub-cultures in the British Isles. In Volume One
the first chapter sketches in the general ethnography of the islands
and surveys the historical sources that inform one on music-making and
on the role of the fiddle and its repertory up tp the beginning of
World War Two.
Chapter Two brings the history of the tradition up to date with a
set of biographical sketches compiled from field interviews with some
fourteen fiddlers selected from a variety of island communities. Such
aspects as how they learned to play, how the repertory is transmitted,
performing practice and the social context of their music-making are
illuminated through the words of the musicians themselves.
The musical repertory is then discussed. A typology of dance
tunes is derived from terms used by the musicians themselves. The
style of some of the earliest pieces, mostly now obsolete, suggests
links with Scandinavian musical traditions, while the remainder of the
repertory, which is principally dance music, suggests increasingly
strong Scottish influences on Shetland culture.
Musical style is discussed in Chapter Four and the influence of
social context is examined, particularly the relationship between
dancing and its music. Two 'folk' terms are singled out for special
attention - namely 'lift' and 'lilt' - which are considered to be of
paramount importance in good fiddling. Bio-mechanical factors are also
discussed insofar as they affect musical range, tonality and modality.
A number of 'fiddle keys' are identified and the unresolved question
of the use of 'neutral' intervals is also briefly examined. The
performing style of several fiddlers is also analysed so that the
distinctive features that mark out one musical community from another
can be identified. Such differences are considered to be a function
of the relative past isolation and the social self-sufficiency of the
A final chapter discusses change in recent years and relates the
changing social role of fiddlers to changes in musical aesthetics and
performing style. Changes in the mode of transmission are also
scrutinized, in particular the increasing use of recordings and
broadcasting media and the introduction of formal teaching of
'traditional' fiddling into Shetland schools. The author concludes
that this, together with the diversification of musical culture in
Shetland are likely to have a profound effect on the tradition.
Volume Two contains some 70 musical transcriptions used for
illustrating discussions in Volume One, as well as lists of recordings
of tunes and texts lodged for further study in the archives of the
School of Scottish Studies. A cassette containing 35 of these
recorded examples is bound into the back cover of this volume.