I attended, “Making it Ours: Intangible Cultural Heritage in Scotland”

I spent today at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh, where there was a workshop about intangible cultural heritage.

Now then, UNESCO has a Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, although Britain hasn’t signed up to it.  The keynote paper was a talk by Carly Williams, a researcher from the University of Aberdeen.  Carly gave us a good introduction to the kind of things that the UNESCO Convention talks about.

We also heard Ewan MacVicar talking about folksong and children singing in the mining communities of Midlothian; Paul Bristow talking about his community development work in Greenock with the Magic Torch group; and Katch Holmes talking about The Droving Project.  Margaret Bennett spoke about the “End of the Shift” project in Perthshire; Filomena Sousa told us  about Memoriamedia – the eMuseum of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Portugal; and Joanne Orr, the Chief Executive of Museums and Galleries Scotland spoke about developments since a policy document produced in 2008, Intangible Cultural Heritage in Scotland: the Way Forward.  A wiki developed for Museums and Galleries Scotland by Napier University currently allows intangible heritage items to be uploaded: however, Living Culture in Scotland turned out to be quite hard to manipulate and navigate, and a new website is under development.

Lastly, Jess Smith spoke passionately and very engagingly about Scotland’s travelling people, and her campaign to preserve The Tinkers’ Heart, a stone caird commemorating those lost in the 1745 uprising, and since embraced by the travelling people for blessing babies, weddings and other purposes.

There is so much intangible heritage!  Of course, libraries, archives and museums are full of the tangible variety, and it occurs to me that all the published song and fiddle tune collections that I’ve been studying are actually the physical reminders of intangible heritage…

I love the Storytellng Centre and the wonderful mix of people you meet at courses there – not just academics but also people working in communities, and people developing policies both at a high level, and on the ground.  The variety of cultural expressions is also very stimulating – you meet a completely different mix of people to those you’d meet at a gathering of specialists in your own narrow field.

This is the Scottish Storytelling Centre website: http://www.tracscotland.org/ 

TRAC stands for Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland, which is currently based at the Scottish Storytelling Centre.  More context: the Scottish Storytelling Centre is a partnership project between the Scottish Storytelling Forum and the Church of Scotland.

Final Post – Artist in the Archive Project

Here’s a wonderful example of creativity being sparked by Glasgow University Library’s special collections!

(Although my own workplace is a comparatively small library, without the rich and ancient collections of an old university, I like to think our stock inspires music, acting, some other performance like ballet or improvisation, maybe even creative writing …)

University of Glasgow Library Blog

Edited SVL2222C-114120208222Edited SVL2222C-114120208211Edited SVL2222C-114120208180Hello again. This will be my final blog post for the Artist in the Archive project. It has been an incredible journey being in the archive. It made me realise that every single piece of paper or object connects to those who lived in Glasgow. Whether they were passing through or stayed the rest of their days it’s all part of the history here.  The history in Glasgow is really astounding if we could just breathe and take in all that surrounds us.

The time spent in the archive being educated about Glasgow through making art has given me joy on a multifaceted level. For example reading a letter about the University’s construction may not seem pivotal but without those pieces of communication nothing may have been built. We may not be able to stand in the beautiful courtyard of the Gilmorehill building and have such a breathtaking campus. I think quite…

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Arranging Folksongs – An Enduring Passion

At work, I’m currently sharing a series of seminars on preserving and transforming Scottish melodies. The first week, we looked at various song collections. The next week, we thought about different angles that were worthy of research, then looked at online resources – both specialist ones that the library subscribes to, and free ones that are simply too good to overlook. And we talked about keeping a bibliography (Mendeley, anyone? Zotero?), and about keeping track of web favourites via Diigo or Google Chrome. (Josh coined the term, “webography”, which is a good way of describing it!) Either way, I strongly recommend keeping a record of which resources you used, for future reference.

Next, we’re talking about taking old tunes and transforming them. I want to demonstrate that you can take an old song from an old songbook and place it in a new setting.  Now then, my Soundcloud account has a number of my arrangements – for saxophone trio and quartet, flute quartet, cello quartet … but I wanted to do something new for next week’s seminar. So this afternoon, I flicked through an old Scottish songbook – not very old in my line of business, just 138 years! – and picked a tune to play with. I found “Farewell to Lochaber”, in a very competent but typically late nineteenth century setting for voice and piano. Actually, the tune goes with Allan Ramsay’s song lyrics. (Ramsay lived 1686-1758).Farewell to Lochaber 1 Brown and Pitttman 001 (572x800)

The songbook is The Songs of Scotland, edited by J. Pittman and Colin Brown, published by Boosey in 1877.  (NB, this is a different publication from George Farquhar Graham’s similarly-named Songs of Scotland published in various editions by John Muir Wood.  I’ve written so much about the Graham/Wood book that I thought I’d better clarify that point!)

I chose to arrange the tune for wind quintet. (The oboe has the tune purely because I’m an oboist!)  I wanted to experiment with five different instruments, because I have done a number of arrangements for multiples of ONE instrument and I fancied a change. It’s a midi file, not a live recording – sorry about that!   LISTEN HERE.

Now, old folksongs do present certain challenges.  For a start – and let’s not get into the tricky question as to how old this tune actually is, or we’ll never get to the notes themselves – they lend themselves to pretty straightforward harmonies, as this example demonstrates.  So it’s always going to be hard to come up with something really original, and if you stray too far from the strait and narrow, you run the risk of spoiling it.  Too many chords per bar certainly wreck the average folk melody, so I avoided that.  However, I quite like sevenths, ninths and temporary clashes that resolve, so if you think I’ve left “wrong notes”, then please be assured that I meant every one of them! My cadences introduce a bit of chromaticism that works in an instrumental setting (in my opinion).  After doing my wind quintet setting, I re-set the piece as a choral arrangement with religious words for my church choir;  I hesitated about replicating these harmonies in a vocal setting, but they worked well enough chorally too.  LISTEN HERE(You can hear the two settings one after another HERE.)

Another consideration is the matter of modality – Victorian compilers got quite concerned about what to do with the “flattened seventh” – the choice is basically either to harmonise it (whether as part of a chord or a temporary clash resolving downwards) – or sharpen it (which I don’t think I’d ever do) – or contrive some other kind of inoffensive discord.  Either way, my harmonies aren’t exactly what you’d put in a more ‘trad’ folksong setting for voice and/or fiddle and guitar.

The other aspect that I particularly concentrate on, after the harmonies, is the interaction between the instrumental (or vocal) lines.  I like to include motifs in the “accompanying” lines, that weave about as a countermelody to the tune itself and recur in different instruments as I go along.  I was quite pleased with this setting, in that regard.

This evening I tried out the choral setting with my choir.  It went quite well, but I had to change a couple of bars where the voices crossed one another.  Where there are two different sounds, the lines remain distinct, but having the soprano and alto crossing over just muddies the sound for the listener.  Also, I changed the underlay of the text in a few places while I was at it.  (You can’t see the text here, but it’s basically some lyrics that I wrote as a “recessional” for the choir to sing at the end of a church service.  I’ve been a church organist so long that finding suitable rhyming words is sadly only too easy for me. There’s nothing wrong with them – they’re just startlingly derivative!)  If you’re involved in church music and would like a copy of the score, do get in touch with me.

There is a mildly humorous side to the whole saga – when I proudly produced my arrangement of a Scottish folksong to my Church of Scotland choir, thinking they’d be enchanted with this Sassenach’s setting of a popular folk melody … they liked it, sure enough – but no-one actually knew the tune!  This just goes to show that fashions change, and tunes that were popular in the 19th century may not still be known today.  Anyway, I’ve just revived it.

What I look forward to, is having the opportunity to discuss the differences in approach between a classical musician with a musicologist’s interest in “trad”, and a trad musician repurposing something that has been preserved in a conventional MOTR (middle of the road) classical collection.  More on this note another day!

Celebrating in Somerset

This is how to celebrate National Music Libraries Day!!

IAML (UK & Irl)

Last Saturday 7th February 2015 saw Somerset Performing Arts  Library celebrate National Music Libraries Day. With a full day’s programme it was our best yet.

Julie Dunn leading a "Sing for fun" workshop. Julie Dunn leading a “Sing for fun” workshop.

We started the day with our ever popular “Sing for fun” workshop, run by local jazz singer/pianist/composer/teacher Julie Dunn (www.juliedunn.co.uk). The library rang to a great sound as they learnt the art of choral singing with a selection of popular and jazz songs.

The Puddletown duo - Jenny Hansford and Chris Hutchings. The Puddletown duo – Jenny Hansford and Chris Hutchings.

Chris Hutchings with a quick change of instrument. Chris Hutchings with a quick change of instrument.

Up next were the Puddletown Duo with a recital of Baroque and traditional pieces. The space was packed with a variety of friends, family, colleagues and enthusiastic library users to watch Jenny Hansford on keyboard and our own staff member the multi-talented Chris Hutchings on violin, baritone saxophone and accordion, with the odd keyboard solo thrown in.


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Sexy Bibliography (and revealing paratext) – yes, it’s a peer-reviewed article!

I’m pleased to say my article was published in Library Review this month, February 2015 (Vol.64 Iss. 1/2, pp.154-161).  Since it’s an Emerald journal and peer-reviewed, I’m feeling quite chuffed!

I can’t even remember how I dreamt up the title of that article, but it’s about library user education and musical paratext, and draws on my Teaching Artist studies last year. Maybe I should reassure you that “sexy” is a marketing term, and paratext certainly reveals things about the author or compiler of a book.  Not a whisper of black lace or naughtiness anywhere, I can guarantee.

If your university library subscribes to Library Review, you can read the article here.  If not, I’ll share the abstract so you can see what it’s about.

Design/methodology/approach – The main focus of this concept paper is a consideration of best pedagogical practice, and a discussion of how best to embed it in a curriculum designed for performers and other creative artists. Turning from a role as a bibliographic instructor to that as an academic adjunct, the author addresses similar pedagogical issues in a session on Scottish songbooks, which is delivered each year to second-year undergraduates.

Findings – The author wrote a paper on user education for a librarianship journal in 1991. The present paper reflects upon the discernible differences in approach between then and now, and finds that gaining pedagogical expertise has enabled significant improvements.

Originality/value – There is comparatively little published about user education in music libraries, about pedagogical training for librarians working in this field, or about scholar-librarians availing themselves of suitable training to improve their delivery of academic course components.

I hope to resume my studies towards a PGCert (Postgraduate Certificate) in teaching, later this year, and I look forward to gaining further insights which I can draw upon in future teaching activites.

Musical Maggots, Anyone? And Now I’ve Arranged One

(This is my own posting reblogged from WhittakerLive.blogspot.com.  Here I blog it under my own name with the addition of a flute quartet arrangement that I wrote this weekend.)

Glancing through a modern edition of an 18th century flute book, I found “John Anderson’s Maggot”. Strange, I thought.  I know the Robert Burns favourite, John Anderson, my Jo – but Maggot is hardly a term of endearment, so … what’s a maggot?

It’s an early 18th century word for an earworm, apparently – an obsessive returning to a theme.  Right, so that fits the music in question perfectly – roughly speaking, a couple of variations on a theme loosely related to the Burns song.
Don’t believe me?  In the BBC film of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, they danced Mr Beveridge’s Maggot. Different tune, and Mr Beveridge was apparently a dancing master.  I don’t dance, but even I think I could walk through this particular dance!
And then I found a web discussion about musical maggots, to add to the intrigue.  If you’re interested in period “country dances”, you might like to take a look:-
Much more recently, Ernest Tomlinson included a maggot in his First Suite of English Folk Dances.  Our thanks to flautist and flute choir director Rachel from Sheffield Flute Choir for sharing this YouTube clip with us:-

This weekend, after a busy Saturday rushing hither and yonder, I allowed myself to unwind with a bit of music arranging.  Here’s the midi-soundfile of my own flute quartet arrangement – John Anderson’s Maggot, from Daniel Wright’s Aria di Camera:- https://soundcloud.com/karen-mcaulay/john-andersons-maggot

Daniel Wright’s solo flute collection dates from the early 1730s. This is a set of three variations for unaccompanied flute, on ‘John Anderson, my Jo.’ I added the unadorned theme as the opening section, then set the whole lot for flute quartet – 3 flutes and a bass flute. (Here’s hoping there’s a flute quartet out there willing to try it!)