Category Archives: Music

Volunteering Expertise

Anyone who knows me would not be surprised that I’m honorary librarian for a charitable trust looking after an historical collection of Scottish music in Dundee.  The Wighton Collection belongs to the City of Dundee and resides in the public library – but the Friends of Wighton support and promote the collection.  In recent years we’ve also acquired the late Scottish accordionist Jimmy Shand’s music collection.  I have to be honest and admit that it really is the perfect charity for me to be involved with!  Not only do I have the Scottish music and librarianship expertise, but I also started my music librarianship career in a public library, and it feels right that I should be giving something back to the public sector, even if I’ve subsequently spent 31 years in an academic library.  And I totally agree with the aims of the charity in promoting classes in traditional Scottish musical instruments, even if I am not involved with that side of things.  (It’s in Dundee – I can only go over there on occasional Saturdays, even for the bibliographical work I do voluntarily.  Going across weekly wouldn’t be feasible, really.)

I was happy to come back from today’s visit – which included enjoying hearing a friend playing at one of the Cappuccino Concerts this morning – knowing that I’ve got a quantity of music listed and boxed up with instructions for a bindery to transform them from rather tired old scores into smart cloth-bound volumes.  They represent some of Jimmy Shand’s repertoire, and although people today can be rather dismissive about early to mid twentieth century “Scottish” songs, they are nonetheless a link in the chain of our history, and as such, worthy of preservation.  Strangely enough, some of the material I’ve handled today was by BIG Scottish music publishers (in their day), but on cheap paper, mass-produced, and despite that, rarely surviving in today’s libraries.  I like to think we’re doing a good thing in attempting to preserve them!

(Image is my own accordion, not Shand’s.  But he’s partially to blame for my recent acqusition in any case!)

Happiness is … an unaccompanied tune!

There are three strands to my professional self: librarian, musicologist and educator.  But there’s a fourth strand which stays at home – creativity.  That’s not to say, of course, that I’m not creative at work, but I don’t get the opportunity to sew or arrange tunes during my working day!

During my doctoral studies, I encountered Georgian Scottish song-collector Alexander Campbell, of Edinburgh (and the Highlands).  The tunes he collected are in a 2-volume collection called Albyn’s Anthology.  There are some lovely tunes, but his accompaniments are pretty dire.  (Sorry, Alexander, but they are!)  I have had very many hours of innocent pleasure arranging them for small instrumental ensembles.  This week I was challenged to arrange something for soprano and flute, and I ended up with this: ‘The Lone Wanderer‘.

A bit of background: the poet of this tragic song was “Anon” (maybe tune-collector 2018-10-02 10.06.41Alexander Campbell himself?), and he set it to an “ancient Lowland melody” that he had collected on his song-collecting travels. The lyrics tell the story of a girl who went out of her mind with grief, when her fiance was taken from her on their wedding day. The theme is strongly reminiscent of a very popular song, “Crazy Jane.”

Whether he died, was conscripted, or some other disastrous circumstance, is entirely up to the listener’s imagination in the present song.

Campbell went on two song-collecting tours in Scotland in 1815 and 1817, publishing a song collection after each trip. It is with relief that I ditched his accompaniment for this one and wrote an alternative flute accompaniment!

I decided to put some of my arrangements on Sheet Music Plus – they’re all here if you’re interested!

HerStory Scotland? Yes, but under a different name

Idly scrolling through Twitter, an account called Herstory caught my eye.  It’s owned by Alice Wroe, a London feminist artist.

Herstory- set up by @alicewroe uses feminist art to engage people with the women’s history absent in the curriculum.

Being naturally inquisitive, I had to find out who Alice was:-

Alice Wroe


Feminism / Art / Education. See my project @herstory_uk


It got better.  HerStoryIreland spotted my retweet, so I thought I’d see what was happening over there, too:-



Herstory is a new cultural movement created to tell the lost life stories of extraordinary women from history and today.

Dublin City, Ireland  ·

So the obvious question was, what about Scotland and Wales?  We certainly do study women’s history ‘over the border’ – and although there isn’t a Twitter @HerStoryScotland, there is Women’s History Scotland @womenshistscot, not to mention the amazing Glasgow Women’s Library @gwlkettle.  (I must admit I’ve never really thought about what goes on in Wales, as regards feminism or feminist history. Shocking, considering my Welsh Borders ancestry, but I have only ever lived there for one academic year.)

I keep an eye on the Women’s History Scotland group activities, but I’m already 11228598145_661aa7a45d_zjuggling being a music librarian, musicologist and PGCert online student, so I’m a bit pushed for time at present.  Women’s place in history is an interest of mine, but not my main focus.  My current research is into historical music copyright collections.  From time to time, this does lead me to think about women involved with music.  In my doctoral research, I encountered early 19th century song-collectors in the Hebrides, and more recently I’ve discovered a lady music cataloguer in early 19th century St Andrews, and a deserted Scottish mother who supported herself and her daughter in London by teaching and composing harp and piano music. She also sold her deceased, deserting husband’s compositions (nice work, Sophia!), and established a music school with her second husband.  Quite a lady.   (Oh, and there was the English lady concert promoter who tried to get in on the first Edinburgh Musical Festival.  She didn’t get anywhere.) Then there were my English lady song-composers who set songs about the pastoral life, romance, sensibility … and the Napoleonic Wars!

Meanwhile, in my capacity as music librarian, I’ve boosted our stock of books about women in music, historical or otherwise, in the past year or so.  And I have research colleagues outwith the library, who study women in music whilst simultaneously composing music, and suffragette women in politics whilst animating live theatre events.  But this is just in my small corner of Western Scotland.  There is bound to be lots more activity that I don’t even know about.

Next Up – Constructivism

My head is going to explode with such an overdose of educational psychology in 24 hours, but if I have the time, I might as well put it to good use.

So … I went to the Sage Encyclopedia of Educational Psychology, to take a look at the ‘Constructivism’ entry.  It’s only short – I should know, as I’m a Sage encyclopedia author myself! – my hope was that it would just enable me to ensure that I’m not missing out on anything in my understanding of the principles.  The Sage e-books offering is astonishingly broad, and it hadn’t yet let me down on educational theory.  However, as I shall explain, this time it was disappointing – probably because it was theoretical, and just not what I was looking for.  (Nonetheless, I’ll still be recommending Sage e-books, because in general, there is a lot of good content.)

Prawat, Richard S., “Constructivism”, in Encyclopedia of Educational Psychology, ed. Neil J. Salkind.  (Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2008)

Print ISBN: 9781412916882
Online ISBN: 9781412963848

Print page: 183

The students themselves construct knowledge, and as a consequence, teaching relies less on lectures and textbooks, and more on the teacher supporting individual students in their learning.  That much is very straightforward.

I had not been aware that different camps of constructivists have a different understanding of what knowledge actually is, nor that there are at least three different camps – two groups of social constructivists, and a third group deriving from the theories of John Dewey and the more recent Jean Piaget.  I have at least heard of them!

Disappointingly, the fact that this article is an overview actually means it’s not much practical help to me.  It’s highly theoretical.  Reading the different arguments, I can’t even decide whether I agree or disagree with the conceptual disputes about the nature of knowledge.  What is clear is that to declare, ‘I am in favour of a constructivist approach’, is an incredible generalisation.  There is room for a whole range of views under this broad umbrella. For example:-

  • Should the curriculum be problem-based, or centred on students’ interests and developmental level?
  • Should pedagogy be ‘peer centered’ or ‘individually oriented’? (p.1 of pdf)
  • Should assessment be performance-based against a common standard, or based on the individual’s development?
  • Is knowledge actually something that is shared, between people? In which case, the author says these particular social constructivists say it should be ‘overt or observable’, and that it follows from there that knowledge either consists of strategies/routines or of language. This seems to me more of a philosophical argument than a practical method of teaching!  In my view, whichever way you conceptualise knowledge and its connection with language, at some stage both student and teacher have to use language to convey their understanding to each other.  Even in instrumental teaching, verbal communication and explanation augments the technical demonstration.
  • Following on from the definition of knowledge, the social constructivists prefer different models of learning, intellectualising the idea of ‘apprenticeship learning’ in the classroom. (pdf p.1)  At the bottom of the page, I finally realise that what is being described is the scaffolding technique where the teacher supports the student, gradually removing support as the student gains knowledge and confidence. Thus, in a longer lesson, I might start by demonstrating what can be deduced from an early nineteenth century Scottish songbook preface, but by the end of the lesson I would be encouraging students to interpret another collection themselves, using the approach that I had modelled.
  • When we come to Dewey and Piaget, I understand the argument that children and adults alike instinctively try to make sense of what they encounter.  This is just logical.  Dewey’s view of ‘inductionist constructivism’ (pdf p.2) is summarised as the ‘guide on the side’ rather than ‘sage on the stage’ approach.  Again, this is how I understood the constructivist model, and it’s my preferred method where I have the freedom to design the learning.  However, I must add that, whereas this approach is ideal for small groups or seminars, it is very difficult to utilise when one is catapulted into a one-off session with a larger number of students about whom you know very little, and when you have been asked to impart knowledge which is not the students’ primary focus.  It’s equally hard to use if you were over-optimistic about the cohort’s preparedness and background.  Moreover, devising group activities where students construct their own knowledge is almost impossible when you have been asked to stand at the front of a lecture theatre to demonstrate websites, databases and best practice to an entire year-group.  In an IT suite with multiple computers, on the other hand, one can at least try to engage a class by setting challenges individually or in groups.  There’s then the distinct possibility that some students will check their emails and social media, but at least the configuration of the session is more manipulable.

In short, this encyclopedia entry didn’t really meet my requirements, so I’ll be going back to Gagnon and Collay, whose Constructivist Learning Design was more useful despite being aimed more at school than higher education level:-

Gagnon, George W., Jr. and Michelle Collay, Constructivist Learning Design: Key Questions for Teaching to Standards (Thousand Oaks, CA.: Corwin Press, 2006.)

(I blogged about this before: see, A Headful of Theory and a File full of Notes, 6 December 2015.)

FUTURE READING?  We have an e-book about John Dewey’s constructivism theories. If i have time, this might be worth following up:-

(Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)

Different Spheres? Thinking about Women and Song

While taking a few days leave, I finally finished a great book about 18th century women composers of songs, by Leslie Ritchie.

There’s loads of fascinating information there, most particularly about the literary side of song-writing.  I think it’s fair to say that the author’s strength is on the literary, “song-writing”, rather than the musical composition of songs.  My interest in literary matters has been lifelong, but my own academic background is from a musicology discipline rather than literature, so I devoured the book enthusiastically, but didn’t gain as much from the music point of view.  I didn’t always agree with the interpretation of the analysis (though the harmonic analysis itself wasn’t faulty) – and I’m off to inspect a copy of Ann [Anne] Young’s Elements of Music this afternoon because I don’t think the “songs” about or by women were actually songs at all. They look like dance tunes to me.  And I rather suspect that when the former owner of the British Library’s later edition marked one item as “a woman” and another as “a man”, she might just have been noting someone connected with the dance,  or someone she heard play it, rather than whoever wrote it.  Either way, dedicating a dance-tune to a woman or calling it “Lady Whatsit’s Favourite”, has no real significance. You named tunes after people to pay them a compliment.

But enough of my nitpicking. The other interesting idea appeared early on in Ritchie’s book, and that was an attempt to unpack the idea of “separate spheres of influence”.  To understand that, I had to read the introduction and first article in another book, No more separate spheres! : a next wave American studies reader, edited by Davidson and Hatcher (2002).  There I learned that the idea arose in 19th century America, thanks to a writer named Alexis deTocqueville (Democracy in America, 1840).

Suffice to say here that we would be wrong to declare that all women moved in the domestic sphere, and all men in the public, commercial sphere, for two or even three reasons: firstly, there is a continuum. It’s not one or the other. Secondly, if we continue to think along these lines, we’re continuing a concept that is now very outdated. And thirdly, although we say “all women”, in this context there’s the tendency to mean fairly well-educated white, middle-class women … but their “sphere” or area of influence was very different from women of other classes and ethnicities.

Having said all that, I’m left with one observation.  Who used the songs in the University of St Andrews’ early music legal deposit collection? Notwithstanding all these very valuable and thought-provoking observations, I put it to you thus: even if they just sang the songs, they were people who could read, and whoever played the piano/harp part could also read music.  They borrowed the music by the kind offices of the university professors.  White, middle-class, educated women borrowing music?  In Georgian times, in St Andrews? In all probability, yes.

Hymn for St Augustine’s Church, Norwich-over-the-Water

From the Churches Conservation Trust website: St Augustine’s Church, Norwich-over-the-Water

I can’t believe it’s 30 years since I was organist at this, the church with the nicest name of all the places I’ve ever played!  St Augustine’s Church, Norwich-over-the-Water is now under the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.  It’s a mediaeval church with the only 17th century brick tower in Norwich.

While I was there, I composed a Palm Sunday hymn, ‘Sing Hosanna, ye people young and old.’  I fished it out today, and decided I’d better get it saved in Finale Songwriter and Soundcloud so that I have a digital record of it.  Here’s the midi-file.

Now, there’s a hymn-tune called ‘Sursum Corda’ which has a similar outline for the first two lines.  However, mine alternates between 7 and 6 beats in the bar – that’s certainly different! – and the last two lines go their own individual way.  I have no idea if I had come across the earlier hymn when I wrote mine, but I can honestly say that there was no intention of basing mine on someone else’s tune.  If anything, I think it simply betrays my immersion in mediaeval music and plainsong for several years as a student!