Further Thoughts on the History of Dance in Scottish Gaeldom: Part 2

An Appalachian Detour Anyone wishing to produce an account of vernacular dance in North America would do well to read the recent volume Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics by Phil Jamison (2015, University of Illinois Press). Jamison integrates a huge amount of information and personal experience into this book: the various distinctive genres of dance in Appalachia;…

Further Thoughts on the History of Dance in Scottish Gaeldom: Part 1

I’ve been collecting new ideas and materials about the history of dance in Scottish Gaeldom for months – things I haven’t had time to articulate and elaborate since my last significant essays which are  accessible on this blog and on my academia.edu webpage – and some of which are in response to my reading of…

An Athollman’s Bagpipe Song in Defense of Gaelic

Gaels all over the Highlands, even as far east as Strathardle, managed to cling resiliently onto their language and culture until the tumultuous changes of the nineteenth century. English pushed aggressively against Gaelic during the nineteenth century, but not without some resistance. One of those Perthshire Highlanders who defended his native language and urged others…

A Paean to the Bagpipe in Nova Scotia, 1816

The “Great Highland” bagpipe is now an iconic symbol of Scottishness in Scotland and abroad, but inadequate attention has been paid to how Highlanders themselves perceived, described and discussed their musical traditions and instruments amongst themselves. The following poem is, as far as I know, the earliest surviving commentary in Gaelic – thus composed by…

On the Gaelic musical term “org(h)an”

The word org(h)an and associated derivates appear in Gaelic texts in the 17th and 18th centuries. The glossary of the poetry anthology Bàrdachd Ghàidhlig prepared by William J. Watson in 1918 translates this word as “organ” (i.e., the musical instrument), although the Latin/Greek term organum is also listed without comment. Subsequent editors and translators of…

Kenyon Love Song (19th-century Ontario)

I’m slogging my way through a very large project at present, the first modern anthology of Canadian-Gaelic literature that I’m calling Seanchaidh na Coille // The Memory-Keeper of the Forest, which will be published by Cape Breton University Press next year. I’m trying to cover as much territory as I can in Canada, as Gaelic-speaking…

The Earliest Gaelic Dances

What kinds of dance did Gaels do before the European dance trends of the Renaissance (and later) came to Ireland and Scotland? It was only then that the jigs, reels, and so on, now considered “traditional,” came into being. Is there any evidence about what bodily movement they did to music, when, why and by whom? How…

Origins of Dance in the Scottish Highlands

Step-dancing has become strongly associated with Gaelic tradition in Nova Scotia, but where did it come from? Is it really an old and conservative tradition that preserves how Gaels were dancing when they emigrated from Scotland (or even earlier), or was it borrowed from the Irish in North America? Where did the dance forms now…

The Origins of the Strathspey: A Rebuttal

By the 16th century Lowland texts reflect the notion that the Highlands were a repository of older Scottish customs and traditions, and Macpherson’s Ossian (1760) only popularized and reinforced this idea. Music and song collectors of the 18th and 19th centuries, responding to the perceived crisis of Scottish identity and tradition in an assimilationist and…

The Fallacies of “Celtic Music”

Or , “Is there such a thing as ‘Celtic Music’?” Back in the old days, before the internet, there were these great places called “music shops.” You could wander around the aisles, exploring all kinds of musicians and their works, and discover things you hadn’t anticipated. But even then, the music business and music shop…