Strathspeys?

Strathspeys?

I’ve been learning a handful of Strathspeys on my fiddle. So far I’ve got ‘Brisk Bob’ and ‘Cutting Bracken’.
I love them and I havn’t exactly found them hard… but… I really have no idea what a Strathspey is! Everyone I asks seems to have a different answer, but then, of course, I live in a part of the world where I don’t know anyone who plays traditional music.
Is it 4/4 time, like a reel? Because it feels different. I play by ear, so I really only mimic, but I thought it would help with playing these if I knew WHAT they were!

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Kaeleigh, the main thing is the Scots snap - I also play by ear and my grasp of music theory is slight, so instead of talking about quavers and semi quavers [which i dont really understand] i would describe it as ’ dee dee dah DADA dah . So for instance with Cutting Bracken/Tha mi Sgith assuming you are playing in A minor , you are playing AAageg with the ‘geg’ being the Scots snap. Yes they are 4/4 like a reel but slower and more deliberate. My personal favorite strathspeys are ‘Laird o Drumblair’, ‘John Steven of Chance Inn’ and the ‘Sweetness of Mary’. Hopefully other session members will contribute with better explanations!

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It’s a dance rhythm, like almost everything else we play in Irish and Scottish sessions. You’ll get more descriptions here, and there are differences in how they’re played in Scotland and Cape Breton. It may be helpful to see what the dance looks like; a sort of broken rhythm with the "snaps" for emphasis (I hope this is a good example, just a quick Google scan):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?=74&v=QGHoHmX8bQA

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Strathspeys derives from reels so a reel can be played as a strathspeys by slowing it down and liberal uses of snaps and triplet runs and a strathspeys can be played as s reel by ironing it out and playing it round and fast and avoiding so many triplet runs . An example of this could be
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=n0YhR0gLiRU

Check out more standard pipe settings of these tunes on you tube and it might help to hear the difference

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>Is it 4/4 time

Yes.

>like a reel?

No. A reel is split common time, 2/2, meaning there are two minim beats per bar. Same quantity of notes, less beats.

The way I introduce students to the strathspey idiom is that there is one long note somewhere within each beat, and those long notes are connected together with short notes that are equal in length. Having identified the long notes, the first task is to work out how to create each of those connections and to be able to play them quickly but without forcing. Once that’s done, you can try to put the thing together at a consistent tempo.

The strathspey can be a confusing idiom because it is very closely linked to the dances associated with it and without some experience of them the musical style seems completely arbitrary. In addition, there are lots of different styles of strathspeys, corresponding to different traditions and dances.

I think a good place to start is by listening to the Cape Breton fiddle style. Not necessarily because you want to play like that, but because it is very consistent and rhythmical and easy to pick up on, and there is endless quantities of it on Youtube.

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Re: Strathspeys?

The simple answer is that the Strathspey is a dance.

As a former Scottish dancer, in my mind it’s obvious that when you play a Strathspey you ought to have awareness of the dance idiom. Of course the best way to get a feel for the idiom is to dance it! Next best is playing for dancers.

But there’s a seperate idiom called "slow Strathspey" which is at a different tempo and treats the melody differently. In my mind it’s a listening idiom rather than a dancing one.

Yes originally Strathspeys were called "Strathspey reels" and were an adaptation of the reel to the Strathspey dance. You had to play a reel slower and with different emphasis.

Still today there are many tunes that, in Scotland, are played both as a Strathspey and as a reel.

BTW "reel" is a dance figure, from which the dance the "reel" got its name, from which the tune-type the "reel" got its name.

There are reels of three, reels of four, reels across, reels on the side, and diagonal reels.

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Here’s a dance of fond memory, "1314", which starts as a Strathspey and goes into the reel at 2:11.

It’s danced here to a solo fiddler, a nice choice, and you can hear lovely treatment of the Strathspey idiom.

The dance has the "reel" figure in it, which you can see first slow then fast. It’s like Celtic knotwork: the various dancers interweave. Everyone involved in the reel figure has to know their track or it goes pear-shaped.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yy8eYKUnauQ

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Here’s a very different treatment of the Strathspey, both in the fiddling style and the dancing style!

In Cape Breton. Note the faster, more driving Strathspey. But I’ve heard Cape Breton fiddlers start a set of Strathspeys more slowly, more like would be done for Scottish country dancing, then slowly get faster and faster, the bowing getting more aggressive, until finally they break into a string of reels.

Anyhow they start with a Strathspey and switch to reel at around 0:31

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKHWq4_uF3c

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https://ceolsean.net/content/Betts/Book05/Book05%2017.pdf

https://ceolsean.net/content/Betts/Book04/Book04%2011.pdf

Here again we have the same tune as a strathspey and reel same meter 4/4 and the g grace notes marking out the beat on the real while more florid graces for the strathspey and some varitions in part 2 .
It’s possible with this site to view many transcriptions of tunes like this in the 2 forms sometimes with the reels notated in cut time , sometimes not . If there’s no agreement amongst these piping luminaries then no wonder we here can not agree !! 8-)
Saying that there are 9 settings of the tune here , 6 as a reel , one in cut time …
as far as I’m aware and I’m no clsssical musician , historically 2/2 was used to indicate 4/4 played faster . Seeing as how the whole system stems from that world and has been adopted by Scott’s and Irish musicians that might explain the discrepancy .

<<To Speed Up the Tempo: When switching from common time, cut time means you’ll be playing twice as fast. In this manner, cut time can be referred to as “half time,” or “playing in 2.”>>

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> historically 2/2 was used to indicate 4/4 played faster

In certain times and places and performance traditions, yes. We should be very cautious about stating that historical sheet music carries a particular piece of information. The use of time signature to indicate tempo was an archaic practice by the time a recognisably modern tradition of dance music had arisen.

The question of whether a reel is 2/2 or 4/4 is one perhaps best avoided as inevitably everyone hears what they wish to hear, but I think it is fair to say most people beat their foot twice a bar in a reel and four times in a strathspey.

Lastly, although there are close historical connections between strathspeys and reels, I do not think it is profitable to consider them as being the same but a bit different. To me, they are as fundamentally different as playing the same melody in jig and reel time (perhaps more so).

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Re: Strathspeys?

The c and o and cut c are pre time signatures . They are common , cut and perfect time respectively 4,2 and 3 meters . So they predate 2/4 4/4 etc so 2/4 is also cut time . That was a quote from a music dictionary .
https://www.liveabout.com/common-time-2701532

Imo there are clearly some reels in 2 such as caberfeidh st Anne’s , but many , I think the majority, in 4 .
I hasten to add it’s not a matter of notation , but of beats .
It’s often I see People tap 4 to the floor for reels and I see it as a distinguishing factor for the best Irish musicians that they beat 4 and the excitement is apparent in every aspect of their playing and I certainly wouldn’t consider a majority a meaningful qualifier !! That’s my opinion .

Of course you can also tap just the 2 stronger beats or not tap at all .

The links I provide do clearly show that strathspeys are a derivative of reels , yes they have a very different feel and are a category of their own . As are jigs a derivative of a 2 beat and slip jigs that of a 3 beat .

The links demonstrate that a reel can be played as a strathspey ( and vice versa perhaps) and I think demonstrate for the OP exactly how that modification is achieved as good as any notation can!!

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"Everything is right here!!"

I disagree. These videos, to some of us rather painful, represent only a particular, and narrow, approach to strathspeys. There are many approaches to, and many different kinds of, strathspeys.

I would suggest to the OP that as you explore strathspeys you keep your mind wide open to the many different styles.

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One of my favorites - being a wire harper, myself (and lover of Paul’s work).

*I haven’t worked this up yet on clarsach, but I play(ed) this set on hammered dulcimer - a 1000 times easier on the reels :)
https://youtu.be/jyEz-WO_mRc

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Re: Strathspeys?

I have to agree with terves and tunes , for what it is , it’s lovely music , what I listened too but as regards strathspeys I wouldn’t recognize them as such from those settings . Just reading from music sheet is a bit of a giveaway ! It’s like a painting by numbers purporting as an old master ….. until the music is internalized theyre not even at the beginning imo .
Anyhow
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ijNBsor1wNA


At 40.40 we have caberfeidh and delvin side played as strathspeys

This is one of the best pipers ever playing a classic set of pipes in a classic recording .

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By the way caber feidh is notated as a reel here
https://ceolsean.net/content/mindex2.html
In 10 of the 13 settings ,
2 as a March and
once as a jig , a fairly modern adaptation not once as a strathspey….
. Yet these days it’s played as a strathspey mostly in the pipe world and in Ireland there a well known version called rakish paddy , a reel ….
At first there were reels , then strathspey reels , then shortened to just strathspeys .

https://tunearch.org/wiki/Annotation:Cabar_Féidh

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Lovely examples of slower strathspeys in a couple of those videos from Tervs and Tunes and Richard Cook. My favourite, back in my dancing days, was Monymusk. They just look and feel so graceful. Strathspeys, as a dance form, came about in the 1700s, with people like the Gows and William Marshall writing such tunes specifically for dancing. Many of the composers of that time, and later, Scott Skinner, were "dancing masters".
As a slight aside to this, many of the Scottish pipe marches are very dotted and snappy, and (I’ve done it myself!) can be confused with strathspeys.

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> The links I provide do clearly show that strathspeys are a derivative of reels

No-one is disputing this. No-one is disputing any of this. But the OP had quite a specific question:

> I really have no idea what a Strathspey is!

I’m pretty sure she can look up videos by herself. Can we use words to explain what a strathspey is or not?

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Re: Strathspeys?

I don’t believe so Colum. But audio examples are also proving deceptive . Which is ‘right ‘?!
ThTs why the notation I linked of the same tune as reel and strathspey offers one written approach that imo is ‘ correct ‘ and an audio that is as well . Learning by ear is all very well but the source is if the utmost importance !!

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Sorry for the mis spell Calum , these phones are not easy to be accurate on . it snuck past the proof reader , who clearly hadn’t drunk his coffee this morning . 8-)

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"Can we use words to explain what a strathspey is or not?"
No, not really.

"I play by ear, so I really only mimic?". The OP answered her own question.

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Hmm do my notation example is not a lot of good then!!! Well maybe someone else will find this thread and it will answer their question . Words won’t help much I feel , dancing about architecture and all that, so good examples of strathspey playing compared to the same tune as a reel might ….

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"many of the Scottish pipe marches are very dotted and snappy, and (I’ve done it myself!) can be confused with strathspeys."

There’s been a tendency, I think we’ve all heard it, in the Highland piping world to "Strathspey-ise" other genres of tunes. Marches, jigs, and airs came to be played with dotting/cutting and cutting/dotting (snaps). Reels too; so in the classic trio of March, Strathspey, and Reel all three tune-types are heavily dotted/cut and cut/dotted.

I suppose one could undertake research and discover whether fiddlers putting dotting and cutting and slowing down the tempo of reels to create Strathspeys occurred first, and later the Strathspey idiom started bleeding over into marches, jigs, airs, and even reels, or whether the dotting and cutting is a general Highland thing which has always been applied to all genres of tunes (Strathspeys being only one example).

"Snaps" occur in Waulking Songs, after all.

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Here’s a great example of how Highland pipe reels can sound Strathspey-like.
(Practice chanter allows the melody to be heard more clearly, I think.)

He plays the last part of a Strathspey, then at 0:o9 goes into the reel Thompson’s Dirk which begins with a pair of "snaps". The old Highland pipe reels, as played as far back as we have recordings of pipers playing them, are chock-full of snaps.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1v51cwbZls

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That video is the kind of thing that gives academics a bad name. Not a single pair of examples is consistent; as far as I can tell the fact that the music consists of long and short notes seems to be enough. Jesus wept.

The idea that Rona is playing the same thing in that strathspey and reel is beyond laughable.

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Re: Strathspeys?

To my mind scotch snaps are effectively an accent , as one could speak in many various accents in English , from London cockney , Liverpool to Dundee to Dublin to cork . The same language but a way of pronouncing and joining words . Hence regional styles . It would be a shame imo if all English speakers adopted BBC English for example.
Personally I incorporate snaps , wherever I feel as a rhythmic variation . I tend to play most tunes round as I cut my teeth in Irish music , but with a nod to my Scottish roots , childhood and background .
Hence i get an individual style, not as a conscious development but as an unconscious accent or style of phrasing .

So when the above link demonstrates , successfully or not , that reels and strathspeys are the same thing just tempo differentiating then it’s not a surprise as historically one developed from the other and reels can be played as strathspeys and vice versa . I actually think that there is more to it than speed , that strathspeys have a much stronger accent ( but it depends on who is playing)

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Will Evans: What you say about accents is so true.
It can be extended to all world/‘folk’ music.
The melodies are less important than the ‘accent’; Bulgarian, Hindustani, South American, Donegal, Appalachia, Burundi et cetera.
And all broadly rely on the ornamentations for their accent. The modes (and tune fragments) are generally much the same.
Around our way is a bloke called Yan who sings the Rocky Road to Dublin in his native Cantonese. The melody is the same but the words and his delivery make it sound like an authentic Chinese folk song. (And it is rather lovely and charming!)

Re: Strathspeys?

Thank you! I’m beginning to understand :) I am a historic dancer and an Irish step dancer, so seeing the dance was helpful. I might even dance it!
I know I’ve heard that The Strathspey is a dance, but somehow I’d forgotten that as I was playing it.
I don’t read music and my music theory is poor, but I found some of these descriptions very helpful. I think I can make my playing reflect what I’ve learned!

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Yes there are "snaps" of a sort in Shetland fiddling and Appalachian fiddling, in reels, which might give a window into how the Strathspey idiom evolved in Scotland. AFAIK the Shetland and Appalachian snaps in reels are different, in that they’re part of syncopation, while the snaps in a Scottish Strathspey aren’t.

In any case though I’m a piper I’ve long felt that Strathspeys sound best on fiddle. Here’s a very common and very old Strathspey, The Ewe With The Crooked Horn (The Ewie W’ The Crookit Horn) on Highland pipes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8ck_7RzOXk

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Off topic, but anyway, re: accents. There is a theory in Cape Breton that the Gaelic-speakers have/had a more ‘Gaelic sound’ in their fiddling (phrasing, ornamentation, tone, etc.) than the non-Gaelic speakers, due to the effects of their having Gaelic as their first language - somewhere there is a video clip of Ashley MacIsaac claiming that the fiddling of one community is distinctive from another due to the difference in their respective Gaelic accents …. However, to my knowledge, no one has ever effectively demonstrated this, let alone proven it. Btw, I don’t know if their are any prominent Cape Breton fiddlers still alive who are Gaelic first-language speakers.

Another aside: I always assumed that the ‘Scotch snap’ came from the glottal stop that you get in (some?) Scottish speech. Is that the general understanding or just my weird theory?

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Here’s the tune as a 2 part reel in notation from 1844-72
https://ceolsean.net/content/PipeAsst/Book05/Book05%203.pdf

2 additional parts from 1866
https://ceolsean.net/content/AGlen/Book01/Book01%2026.pdf

Here the order is kept 1876 with the 2 additional parts added
https://ceolsean.net/content/DGlen/Book02/Book02%2029.pdf

And as a 4 part strathspey 1876-1923 with order of 3 and 4 th parts reversed
https://ceolsean.net/content/MacPhee/Book01/Book01%2027.pdf

1899
https://ceolsean.net/content/MacPhee/Book01/Book01%2027.pdf

I find it interesting to see how the ornamentation developed
And how notation conventions have changed
1951
https://ceolsean.net/content/GlenDar/Book02/Book02%205.pdf

These are pipe versions nothing like the fiddle version and not what the piper is playing which is a more modern setting ,
More like this
http://abcnotation.com/tunePage?a=trillian.mit.edu/~jc/music/abc/mirror/corneymusers/Ewe_With_the_Crooked_Horn_1/0000

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Re: Dr. Lamb’s video, I think I agree with Calum. I lost patience with the video at about 2:42, after he contrasted the two sections and said they were the same because they both had "pointed" rather than "round" rhythms. Maybe the video gets better after that, but it’s not a promising start. (Also, why would you choose to start out the whole video with an excerpt from an Ashley MacIsaac recording?)

Here’s a slightly better-thought-out video on the topic of Scotch snaps:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHB3pA7iCSg&feature=youtu.be

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Really enjoyed that documentary , very interesting. Accents!! History, music. And some social awareness! Excellent.

I note he has 4 drones for his bagpipes! 3A and one E , but actually the prominent E is a combination of overtones and there are only 3 Drones in A.
The second overtone of the drones as the chanters low A is E that’s three octaves of A and three octaves of E overtones.

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@meself, Glenn Graham talks a lot about that theory of Gaelic language translating into music in his thesis-made-into- a book ‘Cape Breton Fiddle’. I’ll go back tomorrow and see what he says, but as I recall most of the players he interviewed didn’t put much stock in it. But as you no doubt remember, there were lots of the older people who still had the lilt even if they didn’t have the language. There are certainly some native speaker/players left, don’t know how you define ‘prominent’… but Glenn and cousin Rodney MacDonald I think are native speakers, Kenneth MacKenzie certainly is. Lots of others are pretty competent speaker/learners. I don’t know you would ever get to the end of that question.

To the original question, I don’t think it is a useful exercise to try to define a strathspey except in pretty general terms. A typical Cape Breton set could start with a half dozen strathspeys, all quite different. Next set another half dozen, all different again. There is a huge world of nuance, and mix in marches and all the other related forms…. better just to settle in and listen to as many as you can.

My favourite moment in music is that instant when the reels gallop forth from the strathspeys. Thta’s everything.

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I read Glen Graham’s book years ago; I don’t remember what he says on the subject at hand. And I actually think the language/music theory makes some sense, but it just hasn’t been ‘shown’ to hold, yet (if it ever will).

By ‘prominent’, I just mean those recognized within the ‘community’ as particularly good fiddlers - names those in-the-know would recognize.

By ‘native speakers’, do you mean ‘first-language’ speakers? Because that is the point, I think: did they speak Gaelic before English (or, at least, learn them simultaneously)?

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Surely music of any geographical area is bound to mimic the rhythm and cadences of the local lingo.
Tamil drumming comes to mind. If you hear the name Thirugnansampandapillai (actually the ‘surname’ of a famous but deceased Sri Lankan cricket umpire) said by a Tamil speaker then you hear the groove of the region’s drums!
Like Trad Irish music goes Diddly Diddly And Trad English goes Rumperty
Back to main topic! Strathspeys with their reversed dotted quaver semiquaver (viz. two semiquavers followed by a quaver with the second semiquaver tied to the quaver) ‘Scotch Snap’ flavour are probably just reflecting the local speaking rhythm. (???)

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It is an interesting theory, but I don’t really agree that the native language has much influence. (Not that I’m an expert).

Music itself can be thought of as a language. You can discuss styles, dialects and accents within the musical tradition without relating to the spoken language.

Airs are something else as they relate to a sung tradition, and in that case you might be better able to make the point about language influencing the music.

Take the question out of the specific, gaelic context.

Would you try to make a similar case for music from Africa, Brazil, China, English, French?

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Sure, I would try - if I had enough knowledge of the languages and the music … !

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Regarding the language factor, I’m reminded of an anecdote my fiddler S.O. related from a workshop she attended several years ago up here in the Pacific Northwest USA, led by Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser. I wasn’t there, so this is a secondhand story but it did happen.

In one of the introductory, "let’s get to know each other" speeches for the whole group, he made a comment about how it helps to understand how the Gaelic language influenced the sound of Scottish instrumental music. I don’t know if it was specifically about "snaps," but apparently it was important enough to mention.

After he said that, someone in the group (and remember this was in the USA, for context) asked him where is this "Gallic" country he was talking about? No clue that it was a reference to language and not a country.

He was dumbfounded for a moment (as was the rest of the group), and made a polite answer. Anyway, at least Fraser thinks there is some relationship with the language.

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The video is talking about language rhythms and how they are reflected in the musical rhythms of the culture. I think it’s a good thesis and well evidenced .

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I think it is a question for the musicologists as to the history of pointed rhythms in Scottish Gaelic music. Of course they clearly suit the language, which has many short vowels and the stress always falling on the first syllable of the word. But from my (very limited) knowledge, most of the Gaelic music that I know of that predates the era of modern traditional dance music (say the late 18th century for argument’s sake) doesn’t have the kind of pointing we’re talking about in this thread, and perhaps the rise of puirt singing is where it comes in.

What I would point out is that Irish Gaelic has exactly the same linguistic features and yet Irish traditional music obviously does not adopt those rhythms.

Lastly, I think the obsession with the "Scotch snap" (a term never used by most Scottish musicians) is misplaced. I described my teaching model for the strathspey somewhere near the beginning of this thread and although they aren’t uncommon in strathspeys, equally they are by no means necessary to make a series of notes into a strathspey idiom.

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meself: Yes, by first language speakers I mean Gaelic was the primary language in the house. That older generation where it was common, or at least not unusual, is passing; the last one I knew of in my area died not too long ago, there are more in various places, but they are spread thinner. The province has tried mentor/apprentice/immersion projects which are interesting (there’s a report and a half hour film about one project), and there are young families living in Gaelic in the house. But most of the middle and younger generation, if they have fluent Gaelic, would be products of ‘simultaneous bilingualism’ (I’m training right now as an ESL teacher, and that’s the textbook term). And that’s different than learning Gaelic first, then English as a second language. There are some younger players who grew up in Gaelic speaking houses… Kenneth MacKenzie and his brothers for example. Others took lessons from an early age; it’s taught in some of the public schools now. So there is a wide range of experiences.

Anyway, Graham looks at it, but it’s hard to pin down. Paraphrasing, there is some research that assumes that as the language declines, so must there be a negative effect on the music, and it will ‘sound’ less Gaelic. But there were very few (only one) musicians involved in that research, and a lot of subsequent writing is based on that one study. And there is, I would argue, the evidence that there are scads of top Cape Breton fiddlers who are not fluent Gaelic speakers. In his first discussion of it, he suggests that the music CAN retain a true Gaelic sound, IF the players coming up learn from the older players who have it in their music, whether it got there from their own knowledge of the language, or just by absorbing it like a local accent coming naturally to someone.

In a later chapter, he discusses the results of a survey he did with 18 musicians. All of them thought the language had an influence on the music (I agree with that too); only one said you have to be a Gaelic speaker to have a Gaelic sound, and that was only ‘to some extent’. They talked about four things contributing to the sound (generalising), three directly connected to the language: rhythm and accent, puirt-a-beul, and then piping. I was wrong abut Graham being fluent; his father is, but he isn’t. He mentions Kenneth MacKenzie and Mairi Rankin as players who grew up in Gaelic speaking homes. Then he gets into a lot of other areas, where the language aspects are part of the discussion, but not the sole focus.

In the end, the evidence seems to show that no, you don’t need to be a Gaelic speaker to have a Gaelic sound in the Cape Breton context, but aspects of the language are built in to the music, and if you are learning to play the music well, you are also learning and continuing those aspects. If you DO speak the language, you may see have more insight into what is going on. To me, strathspeys are the form most closely related to the language, and listening to the spoken language you can maybe draw the most connections to the music. In the end though, to play strathspeys well, you have to listen to a LOT of strathspeys, and if you listen to a lot of strathspeys, it clicks that there are seemingly endless variations on them, and they can be hard to find a siple definition for them.

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"Lastly, I think the obsession with the "Scotch snap" (a term never used by most Scottish musicians) is misplaced."

Calum’s point is well taken. In my own experience, in the now 31 years of the Vermont Bellowspipe School, I’ve never heard any of instructors use the term "Scotch snap". And this includes the 4-5 years of fiddle instruction. In my view, the term can, in the wrong hands, be misleading and ineffective in conveying the feel of much of STM.

As to the influence of language, Anna Murray was one of the instructors in 1998. Addition to being a fine piper, she is a native Gaelic speaker (Lewis, I believe). One afternoon she demonstrated how many of the pipe ornaments mimicked and arose out of aspects of the Gaelic language. Fascinating.

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Hmmm: "the "Scotch snap" (a term never used by most Scottish musicians)" - well some of us do, and if we play from sheet music (not going to start that argument again! PLEASE!) the use of highlighter pen is a great help for getting all the snaps in the agreed places until the tune is fully embedded in the heid. (Talking about playing in a band where it does sound best if everyone plays the same!).
The less formal and slightly jokey terminology is to "play with plenty of dottiness", although that’s maybe more about people not holding their dotted quavers for long enough.

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Show me a highland piper who doesn’t use notation ….

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On the ‘Scotch snap’… it gets mentions in Allister MacGillivray’s and Liz Doherty’s books on Cape Breton fiddle, probably others too, but I just asked my daughter who has studied with a number of good players here, and no one has ever talked about it in those terms.

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You are braver man than me AB ;-)

Thanks, lets see (a) if anyone reads Lamb and (b) anyone comments on what he actually says.

By the way I thought the Tagg video was great. An ‘essay’ by an retired academic, not an academic work. There is a critical aspect that he treats comparatively briefly.

Re: Strathspeys?

Well it was an interesting piece and an impressive bibliography! His thesis makes a lot of sense , for me I feel the musical accent reminds me of the land, jagged and mountainous in a way I’ve not seen in Ireland. Perhaps that why Irish music has its forms and highland music it’s.
it’s hard when dealing with history as eviðence can be read in different ways and sometimes people have an agenda…. To prove their thesis rather than to disprove, so evidence is kept if it’s suitable and left if it’s not.
just a few random comments. Interesting discussion any how. Very informative. Thanks everyone who has contributed so far.

Re: Strathspeys?

This has been great reading. One of my strongest musical feelings since when I was young was the GHP. As a kid in suburban midwest north America, it (the recordings we might here on rare occasion) was evocatively powerful, even to me. Took me 20 years later living in the mountains and a hammered dulcimer to learn about trad (from the radio…) largely inspired by the alpine landscape. if I can emulate the pipes on it, it’s most satisfying. Much later came all the diddly for me. Wire clarsach too - I love pipe tunes, and the pipes. It’s a particularly evocative sound for me.

20 years ago, my greatest ambition was to play a wire clarsach in the mountains. It hasn’t lost it’s allure. There is nothing, for me, quite like the wire or the reeds in the wind.

Regarding mountainous and remote geography and aesthetic, I have a strong urge to play nordic music. I find a similar quality of "snap" in a lot of Scandinavian fiddle tunes - the idiom is especially strong in its syncopated dance rhythms.

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Re: Strathspeys?

"I find a similar quality of "snap" in a lot of Scandinavian fiddle tunes" That’s interesting and relates to what I wondered might be a weak part of Tagg’s story.

He gives plenty of evidence that the snap - a short-long pair on the beat - was in England/English as well as in the Celtic languages and their music. He says that the rhythm does not occur in the main languages of mainland Europe and gives examples, but is nowhere near as thorough in presenting ‘evidence’ for this. Of course, showing something is absent or rare is harder than showing that it is common.

One test of his argument would be whether people who are familair with the traditional music of mainland Europe agree that the ‘snap’ is rare there. catty just posted that it occurs in Scandinavia. Any other views on that and elsewhere in Europe? I only know a few Scandinavian tunes, but none (as notated) have short-long pairs on the beat

Re: Strathspeys?

He’s a brilliant young player, a rising star in the Highland piping world.

Here he’s interviewed after sweeping a prominent competition, and you can hear some of his competition playing (as opposed to his "kitchenpiping" above)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJ5q8H97ZbM

Re: Strathspeys?

Nice one Richard ! Of course piping was transmitted aurally for generations via Canntaireachd and Austin shows it’s still possible with a dedicated student and teacher .I think it’s fair to say he’s in the minority!

Re: Strathspeys?

I have to add, after hearing the second link, cross posted, that he is a fabulous player with an awesome set off well tuned pipes. What pipes does he play ?

Re: Strathspeys?

I happen to be trying to play a Strathspey on the fiddle at the moment. The tune is "O’er the Muir Amang the Heather". It is here at https://thesession.org/tunes/2489 - but the noted rhythm doesn’t match what is in my head and I am a very bad fiddler. I have Scottish tunes in my head from my grandmother and her sisters who came from Glenlyon in Perthshire and spoke Gaelic as their first language. One was a fiddler. The Strathspey rhythm is all through everything that has come to me from them. As a result I am one of those bad people who puts snaps in everything. I have had to imagine myself flogging the tiny, emphasised notes with a whip to beat them out of Playford tunes. I can be playing a classic English tune on the recorder and suddenly a passing snap will whizz into my instrument and emerge unstoppably like a shout of sheer joy. DRrrum! Oops! Sorry! They’re really east to play on a recorder and really hard on a fiddle.

I think I might dispute that we KNOW the strathspey has emerged from the reel - even though somewhere here it says that no-one is disputing that it has. Some people say that the Strathspey style of playing probably came into the respectable Scots (as distinct from the disreputable Gaelic) tradition via Neil Gow, who could not read or write music and picked up tunes by ear in pubs. (Gow’s tunes were noted down by his sons). Gow played his tunes at respectable "Assemblies" in the towns and in stately homes as well as at weddings over a wide area. He was very popular. (The dancing was lively and spirited and he sometimes urged the dancers on with a little shout, probably "Heuch!" I always think of the "DRrum" and the "Heuch!" together as displays of glee unsuitable for posh people). It is possible to go on to suggest that the Strathspey form of the reel might be the original. How would anyone know?

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Well there are many books available that show the reel is the earlier form. So in the extant record we have reels then strathspey reels then strathspeys..

Re: Strathspeys?

:-) to you, Will Evans!