Chair: Mary Ann Kennedy
Scottish Gaelic ‘folk’ music is in vogue. Professional ‘folk’ musicians are unofficially tasked with promoting Gaelic culture through its music; often by exploring new contexts and modalities in which to present these works. Regardless, while there are practical examples of ‘hybridised’ Scottish Gaelic ‘traditional’ music, there are few if any studies examining the causality, practicalities, demographics, or artistic rationale of such shifts. This paper therefore aims to examine potential pathways towards the development of a new compositional praxis, specifically centred on the ‘hybridisation’ of this predominately orally-transmitted musical tradition. Focus will be on defining hybridisation through examples of original composition material and detailing its implications and importance for Gaelic music.
The importance of examining these lies in the fundamental necessity of understanding the state of a minority culture’s vernacular—or ‘folk’—music. Furthermore, within the broader field of ethnomusicology, it has been observed that there is a dearth of 'studies dealing specifically with the musical characteristics and the manner in which the music of various origins, forms, and structures are combined to develop original products' (Arom). These gaps in both Scottish Gaelic related, and ethnomusicological research are yet to be adequately explored by conventional theoretical research. However, this paper argues that a practice-based approach would be more appropriate towards contextualising and understanding this ‘evidently new phenomenon’ (Nettl) through a new theoretical framework.
For centuries, in the Gaelic-speaking communities of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, the oral tradition of song was vital. The songs provided entertainment and news, they celebrated success and marked disaster or loss, they made heavy work lighter and repetitive tasks less dull, and they reflected the history and the values of the communities that produced them.
It was in the convivial, social setting of the cèilidh-house that these songs would often be shared, and great respect could be earned by the bards who made them. As literacy became more widespread, many of the popular songs already in existence were written down and circulated to a larger audience, and new songs were composed by literate poets, using similar conventions to those of the oral tradition.
In the twentieth century, the work of so-called ‘township bards’ was seen by some scholars as parochial, limited and of dubious quality. But were such judgements based on sound analysis, using valid criteria? My research has been focussed on a consideration of the poetic techniques used in Gaelic ‘township poetry’ – especially that produced in the nineteenth century – and of the degree to which the work of scholars such as Hymes, Foley and Ong can illuminate such analysis. In my paper, I shall offer an update on my work so far.