Bonny Scot Returns to Scotland

Today’s anthem was sung by a quartet of voices rather than the choir – just for a change.  The piece started life as an 18th century flute tune before I set to work on it!  I don’t think the congregation had ever heard a harpsichord effect, on the Clavinova before – I thought it was remarkably effective for accompanying four singers in a tune from that era.  So, what we had was an Anglo-Scottish flute tune called ‘The Bonny Scot’, first published in London in the early 1700s, turned into a sacred anthem by an Englishwoman for performance in Scotland.  Work that one out!

Someone asked me afterwards what the piece was.  I summarised by explaining that the soprano sang the original flute tune, the alto and baritones sang my accompaniment, and the words were taken straight from another hymn with a suitable meter!


If I could characterise the past couple of months in a couple of words, it would be this:-

Peer Review

I got an article returned to me, accepted pending revisions, a few weeks ago.  One review was fair and balanced.  The other one was harsh but fair … until the end.  Getting into their stride, the reviewer declared I was ignorant of a language (because of the way I’d referenced something), and wrote like a newspaper journalist.  Owch.  I put the reviews to one side and did nothing.  No response, and no revisions.  Finally I was ready to summon the courage to re-read the reviews, write a grateful, gracious but assertive response, and schedule some time to start revising.  (I’d intended to begin this evening, but the time got eaten into in other ways, so … well, maybe tomorrow.)

Then I was asked to review a book proposal.  This came as a bit of a bolt out of the blue,  but I was delighted to have the opportunity to read about this particular subject.  I did the review on a long train journey, and the time really flew by.

Yesterday, I had a request to comment on a peer-reviewed article.  It wasn’t a big ask, so I dealt with it straight away.  And then this evening, I had another of my own articles accepted, pending revisions.  What a difference!  Rather than the demolition job I’d received from the earlier critic, these reviewers were fair and kind.  Certainly, there are slight revisions to make, but they were couched in a way to which no-one could take offence.

It set me wondering why peer-reviewers can’t all be like that?  I have no problem with constructive criticism.  The readers have kindly given their time to read our work and write a response to it, and if they’ve noticed a flaw or omission that I haven’t considered, then I’m grateful to have this pointed out to me.  I want my ultimate articles to be as good as possible.  But why would a reviewer want to be unneccessarily damning?  Is it because they feel superior, or do they feel threatened?

I once had a reviewer wonder whether I knew anything about music.  Clearly I hadn’t allowed my three music degrees to shine through!  This time my linguistic ability is questioned.  It was only a careless slip in following referencing style guidelines.  And then there’s the journalistic jibe.  Do you know what?  That’s a compliment, as far as I’m concerned.  I’ve published in all sorts of places, and before I had our three sons, I published thirty odd short stories and a serial into the bargain.  When one of my doctoral examiners said I made the individuals I was writing about “really come alive”, I reflected privately that my fiction-writing had clearly had a positive effect when it came to writing hard facts, too.

At the age of sixteen or seventeen, I wanted to be a journalist.  Three things make me happy above all others, all creative: writing, arranging music, or sewing.  To have been a music critic would have been a dream come true, but things didn’t turn out quite that way.  I do still write about music, though!  And in these days where public engagement is a vital part of the academic life, having an approachable style is surely an asset rather than something to be ashamed of.

Whoops!  I began a sentence with “And” just then.  As Bloody Mary sang in South Pacific, “Well, ain’t that too damn bad?!”  It’s artistic licence.  If Vaughan Williams and Sibelius can get away with consecutive fifths and octaves in their harmonic writing, then I feel no compunction about a provocative conjunction in my written English!

All Roads Lead To Glasgow? Joshua Campbell’s Glasgow (instrumental medley)

A colleague listened to my recent arrangement of a tune for flute quartet, and asked if I’d ever done any arrangements for string quartets.  I hadn’t.  (Flutes, saxophones, cellos, but not yet a string quartet.)  Well, there was nothing for it – I decided to have a go.  I incorporated the tune I’d already written for flute quartet – why let a good tune go to waste?  You can listen to Joshua’s Glasgow here.

These are my “programme notes”:-

‘Joshua’s Glasgow’ is an instrumental medley from a late 18th century Scottish fiddle tunebook.  Joshua Campbell lived and worked in Glasgow, and I’ve picked a selection of Glasgow-named pieces from his book. His spellings are a bit erratic:-
1 Glasgow Flurish
2 Sweet bells of Glasgow
3 Glasgow Tontine
4 Glasgow ladys
5 The beautifull town of Glasgow
6 Royal Glasgow Volunteers (also known as the 83rd Regiment of Foot, 1778-1783)
7 Glasgow Flurish (I’ve repeated it)

You Know You’re a Postdoc When …

Joshua Campbell compiled three fiddle books, right? And Urbani and Liston reprinted at least one.

A modern indexer said that Joshua Campbell compiled four books, counting the shorter Urbani and Liston edition as another book.  But the CONTENTS that he gives for this last publication don’t match either the first OR the second editions that Campbell himself produced.  And the dates this latest indexer gives for each volume don’t absolutely coincide with J. Murdoch Henderson’s scholarly estimations, which were done a few decades ago.

Worse still, the even earlier scholar John Glen gave markedly different dates for the first two distinct collections that Campbell produced, than the Murdoch Henderson dates that I had accepted as gospel.  Glen cited advertising.  Murdoch Henderson, more recently, didn’t mention either the advertising or Glen. Hmmm.

I know I’m a postdoc because I can’t bear all these uncertainties a minute longer: I shall be spending my Saturday morning going through to the National Library of Scotland to examine one particular volume, very closely.  I may not get anywhere with the dates – I doubt it very much – but at least I’ll know what the contents are! Truth to tell, I like bibliographical puzzles.  If I was forced to choose, I’d probably have to admit that I love paratext and its cultural implications even more than I like bibliographical puzzles, but it’s a close-run thing.

My reward after all this will be to go and hear my very dear friend (another Karen) play clarsach in Blackwell’s afterwards.  Clarsach, Blackwells and perhaps a cuppa is strong motivation to work hard in the morning!