The Self-Perpetuation of Scottish Folk Music
It is a dull October day in Aberfeldy, with low clouds and occasional rain. The Scots have a wonderful word for this climatic condition, calling it ”driech,” pronouncing the “ch” as the same way that it is treated in the word “loch”. I am meeting with my old friend Douglas Craik, the National Convener of the Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland, known as the TMSA. A convener, for my American friends means “people who bring people together.” We met for coffee in the Watermill, the town’s iconic and celebrated Book Store, Art Gallery and Café. Operated as a working Mill until 2001, it has been tastefully converted into its present usage, leaving some of the existing machinery in place. Once a mill for grinding oats (one of fourteen watermills that existed in this area before the Industrial Revolution), it has since been voted the best independent book store in the United Kingdom.
As everyone knows, the recent Olympics and Paralympics have been successful, and backs have been slapped all over the place. What has not been alluded to sadly, is the costs that other arts and cultural organizations have been subjected to, as a great deal of the funding that they depended on, were siphoned off and shipped to London. Add that to the lousy state of the UK economy, and you can see why many worthwhile organizations such as the TMSA, are hurting financially. Many artists and musicians are upset over the high handed attitudes by an organization called Creative Scotland, which dispenses cultural grants.
Before you break out the tissues, dear reader, all is not all doom and gloom in the Scottish Traditional Music scene, but like other groups TMSA has had to take its lumps over the last few years, but is still going strong. According to Douglas the TMSA was formed around forty five years ago, and Douglas has been on the Board of Directors for the last four years, three of them as Convener. A retired actuary who claims that chartered accountancy was too exciting for him, he has managed to bring his business acumen to the board, giving it stability in these troubled times.
According to Douglas, one of the great strengths of Traditional Music in Scotland is the fact that young people are still flocking to it and being mentored by an older generation. In turn they will perform the same function for those who come after them. It is kind of self-perpetuation, and hopefully will continue. Another great strength is the numerous Folk Clubs scattered around the country. Linda and I are members of the Glenfarg Folk Club, just south of Perth, and we have seen some great performers there, from the Tannahill Weavers to Eric Bogle.
Music is the international language, and on the positive side, Traditional and Folk Music has survived through the centuries, from the madrigals of the middle ages, to the great pipe and fiddle tunes composed over the years, and the songs sung by the soldiers on both sides during the First World War. This music will survive, and the people of Scotland will do their bit to keep it to the fore. It is as important as the air we breathe, and the rain that seems to be continuously falling upon our “heids.”
Ron Young had the good fortune to grow up in rural Scotland, surrounded by the traditions of Scottish music and dance. He would like readers to know that whatever you heard about that sheep, it’s not true. Ron has spent the better part of thirty years involved with various Celtic and Scottish cultural organizations in southern California, and now back in Aberfeldy where he has continued to pursue his love of traditional music.