Traditional fiddling in Strathspey : the unschooled Scots fiddler and his style
Macdonald, Hugh Robert Nichol
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This dissertation is based on the results of field-research carried out in the upper Spey Valley, with supplementary recordings and other necessary information from the archives of the School of Scottish Studies, Edinburgh University. It sets out to describe the style and attitudes of fiddlers from that area and to relate them to the Scottish fiddle tradition as a whole. A broad distinction is drawn between two categories of Scottish fiddler - the 'schooled' and 'unschooled' - based on criteria of musical education, and the study attempts, by taking one particular fiddler as a central figure in the discussion, to describe and analyse aspects of style and attitude in the playing of the 'unschooled' fiddler in Strathspey. A 'sound portrait' of this fiddler, Mr. John Grant of Tulloch, is provided on an accompanying tape. This consists of edited conversations, with musical examples, made on different occasions at his home, and arranged to correspond to the structure of the dissertation, providing both commentary on and illustration of the main text. Recordings of all the musical examples discussed are provided on track 2 of the tape. The dissertation is divided into two parts. In Part I, after an introduction setting out the aims of the study and giving a brief geographical and social description of the area, Chapter 1 discusses the learning process among Strathspey fiddlers and sets out the basic criteria for the division of the 'schooled' and 'unschooled' categories. Chapter 2 ('The Fiddler's World') attempts to define the Scottish fiddle tradition as a whole and the position of the unschooled fiddler within it. It argues that previous studies have presented too simplistic a picture and have tended to concentrate on the 'schooled' fiddler as representative of the whole; it also discusses various social situations in which fiddlers participate. Part II examines the style of unschooled fiddlers under two main headings: 'Harmony' and 'Rhythm'. After an introduction in which the concept of style in fiddle-playing is defined, Chapter 3 examines the relationship between harmony and melody and discusses the 'harmonic dimension' of melodic variants played by informants in Strathspey. The use of 'drone' or openfifth 'chording' effects by some players is analysed, and the idea of a harmonic 'deep-structure' discussed. Chapter 4 examines the rhythmic structure of the Strathspey and demonstrates that it is conceptually a fluid rhythmic style rather than a clearly-defined set of rhythmic formulae. The nature of rhythmic structure in Strathspey-playing is shown, in Chapter 5, to be to a considerable extent a function of bowing-style, and individual bowing styles are here examined in detail. Comments on bowing from both 'schooled' and 'unschooled' fiddlers are quoted and discussed, and a contrast in attitudes clearly shown. The evidence shows that bowing styles, always to some extent unique to the individual player, are much less subject to traditional conventions among 'unschooled' than among 'schooled' players. Chapter 6 consists of an examination of the concept of 'lilt' or 'irregular-pulse rhythmic style' in Strathspey playing - especially that of John Grant; time-signal transcriptions are used to describe this aspect of style in detail and the possible 'norms' of the style are discussed. Appendices include: a complete transcript of the 'sound-portrait' tape; transcriptions of all music examples not included within the text; brief biographical notes on the informants; a list of the relevant recorded tapes in the sound-archive of the School of Scottish Studies, and a full bibliography.