Reinvigorating traditional arts in Scotland

Summary 

Three research projects based on audio material from the University of Edinburgh’s archives are bringing traditional Scottish music and song back to life for a modern audience. 

What was the problem? 

The School of Scottish Studies Archive (SSA) and the Greig-Duncan Folk Song collection are a valuable source of information on Scotland’s rich heritage of music and song. Researchers wanted to find a way to bring old and forgotten audio materials to a modern audience, and to learn more about the role of tradition in Scotland and internationally.

Under the umbrella of ‘Reinvigorating Traditional Arts in Scotland’, three research projects have combined traditional music with new media. By mixing the old with the new, researchers have found a unique way to communicate Scottish heritage to the public. 

What did we do? 

Volumes 5-8 of the Greig-Duncan Folk Song Collection were published in new editions between 1993 and 2003. Dr Campbell was a co-author of volume 8 and wrote notes on the music in the collection. She also edited ‘A Selection for Performers’ published in 2009.

Dr West’s work uses the Scottish Studies Archives at the University of Edinburgh to analyse how musicians today use traditional music. From 2008 to 2013, he focused on a modern revival in piping and singing. Dr West is himself an expert composer and performer. This meant he could take part in the research project as a musician, as well as an academic.

In partnership with the BBC and the National Trust for Scotland, the website Tobar an Dualchais (www.tobarandualchais.com) was created in 2010. This website provides public access to over 34,000 oral recordings of Gaelic and Scots recordings.

[Tobar an Dualchais] makes available an enormous amount of rich material in Gaelic and Scots which will help current and future generations learn where they come from.
Fiona Hyslop, Scottish Government's Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs, speaking to the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-11950440)
What happened next? 

This project created several musical performances. The Greig-Duncan Online Songs Project went live in June 2013. It features 16 well-known folk singers singing 35 songs from the collection, including two songs by Dr Campbell herself. They received BBC, STV and newspaper coverage. Dr Campbell served as a judge in 2011, 2012 and 2013 at the annual Portsoy “Folk at the Salmon Bothy” festival at which all songs are from Greig-Duncan.

The Greig-Duncan research has inspired music by other artists, such as Shona Donaldson’s 2011 album Short Nichts & Lang Kisses. Dr Campell wrote an introduction to the album.

Dr West researches and presents the BBC Radio Scotland programme Pipeline. This is the most downloaded show on BBC Radio Scotland, and has around 50,000 listeners every week. Dr West’s research into piping and singing revivals has informed this programme, which gained a nomination for Best Music Programme at the 2010 Sony UK Radio Awards. The 6-times World Pipe Band Champion from British Columbia praised Pipeline, and uses it to inspire their own work.

Dr West’s book Voicing Scotland was shortlisted for the 2012 Trad Music in the Media Award. His latest album, Hinterlands, is a collaboration with clarsach player Wendy Stewart. Stewart and West played together in successful Gaelic folk band Ceolbeg. This latest album continues Dr West’s academic commitment to performance-based research.

The Tobar an Dualchair (TAD) website receives around 7,000 visits a month from 98 different countries. In partnership with the national body for learning and teaching, it provides material for the national school curriculum in Scotland. Dr West has worked with Creative Scotland to extend the website’s use in performing arts and theatre, which resulted in the creation of two Artist in Residency posts in TAD. The Scottish Government has now commissioned TAD to work with the National Library of Scotland, to create a National Sound Archive for Scotland.

About the researcher(s)

Research unit

Subject area:
  • Celtic and Scottish Studies

Funder(s)

  • Creative Scotland
  • The Scottish Government

Related study programmes