One of the joys of raising a family is that eventually they grow up and become independent, and you finally have time to do things you never had time for when they were little and under your feet. For me, one of those pursuits had been waiting in my closet for many years - my grandfather's old fiddle. A few years ago I dusted it off, took a few years of lessons, and now consider myself a tolerable fiddle player, although my family and those who hear me may disagree.
Last summer, on a whim, I spent a week learning Scottish fiddling at Ohio Scottish Arts School in Oberlin Ohio under the tutelage of the 1995 National Scottish Fiddle Champion Elke Baker. Elke is not only a wonderful fiddler, but she is also one of the foremost scholars on Scottish fiddle music in the U.S.A. and maybe even in the world. She serves on the staff of the Washington Conservatory of Music and also runs the Potomac Valley Scottish Fiddle Club in the D.C. area. Elke has devoted much of her life to collecting and documenting Scottish fiddle tunes. She has traveled to Scotland to spend time in the library of Edinburgh poring over some of the earliest Scottish fiddle music ever put to paper. She knows the names of all the oldest tunes, when they were written, who wrote them, and why.
The reason I like Scottish fiddle music more than other types is because it's just plain fun. It's fun to play, fun to listen to, and even fun to learn the names of many of the tunes and think how they originated. Of course you have your fair share of tunes about "Lads" and "Lassies" and this and that persons' "Favorites." But then there's the others you have to wonder about. Like, what was going on in the pub the night someone penned "The Roaring Barmaid"? Did it have anything to do with "The Devil in the Kitchen" or "Ronald's Rant"? Did too much petting of "The Old Grey Cat" give someone "Itchy Fingers"?
The Scottish wrote songs about anything and everything, and sometimes you have to wonder why. Pity the young couple who were unlucky enough to dance their first waltz together to this tune and forever after would fondly remember "The Ass in the Graveyard" as "their song."
But some things never change. Many of our modern songs are inspired by love and sex, and the Scottish were no different. You had "The Lad With the Plaidie" (a plaidie is a blanket or shawl) and he invited his girl to "Come Under My Plaidie." Whether she did or not I don't know, but she must have been conflicted about it. That's how she came up with "Stay and Take Your Breeches With You." Or maybe it really ticked her off and "Jennie Dang the Weaver." (For the benefit of the young people in OSAS Scottish fiddle class, Elke quickly explained that "dang" means "hit.) I guess in those days the gals handled sexual harassment their own way!
The only thing the Scottish love more than each other is their kilts, thus we have "The Kilt is My Delight." They really must have hated trading in their kilts for pants, or breeches, also known as "breeks." It had to be "The Devil Among the Tailors" that was causing "A Curse on the Breeks." Those must be "Willie's Auld Trews (Trousers)" hanging there because "The Breeks Are Loose and the Buttons Awa'." That was some pair of raggedy pants to inspire all that singing.
The Scottish may be ornery but they are a good people at heart. After all that misbehavior, at least they could gain absolution by spending some time on the "Stool of Repentance." With their consciences finally relieved, they could once again "Sleep Soond Ida Moarnin.'"
You have to laugh at some of the names of those fiddle tunes, don't you? After all, "Wha' Can Help It?"
See a link to "Jennie Dang the Weaver" in the links section below. Enjoy!