THE CELLO & SCOTTISH FIDDLE TUNES
by Chase Morrison
I first became aware of Scottish music as a small child. I had had intense exposure to classical music by the time I was eight, and was just embarking on what would become a long career as a cellist. But music of Scotland was a large part of the "at home" listening music.
My father tended towards The Black Watch, and Royal Fusiliers piping bands, played on our stereo at great volume and plumbed by speakers to every room in the house. We were taken to the Scottish games held near Boston each year, where my siblings and I watched the sword dances, pipers, and muscled youths launching logs the length of a telephone pole several feet into the air and ahead of them to great acclaim.
Dad was a second generation American whose grandfather was born in Scotland. As an infant I was sung lullabies I would later come to realize were 19th century popular songs of the day, handed down generation to generation. A few years later, I was given a small music and verse journal kept by my great-grandfather. In it were several entries of hand-copied songs and words for American tunes that must have been the "pop" tunes of the 1880's, and some Scottish ones identified in tiny handwritten scrawl as being by Robert Burns.
Having tried my hand at jazz string playing after years of classical performance, I began to see that there were ways of keeping music fresh. Although I like jazz, the hours (late) didn't suit me. I began to hunt for other string music. Country fiddle in america has its roots in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. I wanted to get back to its beginnings. And, seeing as I have only a finite amount of time on earth, I decided to concentrate on Scottish music.
The cello, as it figures in early Scottish music, was used as a bass line and accompaniment, much as in other countries at that time. Music of the Bachs, Corelli etc. have the cello most times as pure accompaniment. Scotland was no different. And the violin parts of of Scottish music are the heart of the matter. I was determined to make the cello sing and wail the way the violin or a good set of bagpipes would.
I began to transcribe early fiddle tunes for the cello last year, and published them under my own label, ARCO MUSIC. Then, I began to write tunes for the cello that are Scottish in nature, although wholly my own. Two things are common to both. First, the Strathspey, which is a style whereby a dotted eighth note followed by a sixteenth note is shortly answered by a sixteenth note followed by a dotted eighth note. This constant back and forth inversion of the rhythm is at the heart of a strathspey. It can be accomplished in any meter, from straight four to three-eight to twelve-sixteen-- it doesn't matter. There is also room for ornamentation and embellishment, just like a violinist might do in a piece by Locatelli or Purcell. You learn after awhile what's considered tasteful in Scottish music. There is even the possibility of double and triple turns and trills.
The Scotch reel, which is much like the classic Virginia reel in this country, usually involves a two-four or four-four meter, and consists of eighth and sixteenth notes, running up and down and all around. It is designed to challenge dancers, for whom much of this music was meant to be played, to make them work hard, have fun, and fall down in a heap of exhaustion at the end. It is also, needless to say, a challenge for the string player.
I have attempted in the transcriptions (Old Tunes From Scotland vols. 1 & 2) to include strathspeys, reels and jigs. Also with my own compositions (Scottish American Tunes vols. 1 & 2) there are several of each. They are all good technique builders and are also stand-alone pieces.
My most recent project, just completed, has been the transcription for voice and cello of the songs credited to Robert Burns from The Scots Musical Museum. Burns spent his last years in collaboration with a publisher, putting on paper the many tunes of Scotland that had wandered around for centuries without titles, and some without words. I have endeavored to include only those songs which Robert Burns either put words to, or for which he helped create melodies. This is known in my catalog as Songs for Voice and Cello of Robert Burns (vols. 1 & 2).
© 1996 by Chase Morrison
© 1996 by ARCO MUSIC
For further information, please contact ARCO MUSIC, 204 Preston Road, Milford, NJ 08848 1-800-411-6802 email:STRINGO@aol.com