Creativity: Drawing Inspiration from the Past

The other day, I was discussing a new module with one of our course leaders.  My input will include introducing some historic Scottish song collections, but we’re keen that students should not only learn about key features of these books, but also explore ways of using their contents as raw materials to inspire their own creative ventures.

Now, I’m not a ‘trad’ musician.  As well as being a music librarian, I’m a musicologist of historic Scottish music, and my own performance background is in classical music.  Nonetheless, since I believe passionately that Scottish music shouldn’t be seen as ‘belonging’ to any particular musical community, I consider this repertoire to be just as much a treasure trove to me as to our more folk-inspired young musicians.

For my book-launch just under two years ago, I had a variety of musicians playing, amongst them a saxophone quartet who played various tunes from an early nineteenth century collection of Highland and Borders tunes.  Compiled by Alexander Campbell and published in two books between 1816 and 1818, Albyn’s Anthology drew on old Scottish tunes provided both with Gaelic and English words.  I arranged first a suite of songs for sax trio, and then another for sax quartet.  The recordings you’ll find in today’s posting are not from my book-launch, but were later made by a group of Cambridge saxophonists who called themselves, Saxual Healing.

The Cradle Song, which was no.2 in the quartet, is one of my favourites, and demonstrates how I took the tune but rewrote the accompaniment to a more modern idiom.  Here it is, on its own.

If you’re interested, you can hear both suites in full by clicking the links below:-

I have also amused myself by doing a set of Songs from the Pyrenees for Cello Quartet, not to mention a rather experimental cello version of an allegedly Borders pipe tune and some other delicacies from the region … (I could tell you exactly why I say ‘allegedly’, but this isn’t a post about my views on tune origins!)  Listen to Across the Border here.  (These last two are sadly just Finale soundfiles.)

I’d like to think that these small-scale forays into the world of the musical arranger might help other musicians to think up ways of creatively drawing this music from the past into their own musical idiom.

Always up for a challenge, I recently authored the entries on Arranging and Bards in the new Sage encyclopedia, Music in the Social and Behavioural Sciences.

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