TradTrails at Niel Gow’s cottage, Inver, Perthshire, 2012
This blog, and my current work on the clarsach movement, is increasingly reinforcing my view that the term ‘revival’ has only limited value in discussing many aspects of Scottish traditional music. Looking back before the 1960s and 70s it is clear that there were successive and overlapping waves of neglect and rediscovery of the musical heritage. There were each different from each other in terms of key actors, their contexts, ideological motivations, behaviour and, ultimately, musical outputs. Revival is not a modern theme but one which is fundamentally built in to the whole issue of transmission. There have been waves and more waves will follow.
There have been many similarities and shared threads too. Looking back we can see the early roots and try-outs of many ongoing initiatives.
The cult of Niel Gow, initiated by aristocracy, developed commercially by his own family and rekindled in the nineteenth century rose again in the mid-twentieth century. This was marked by the high-profile unveiling of a memorial to the fiddle in April 1949 (expect more on this later) and a proposal to link the memory of this rustic, country fiddler to the artistic and technical development of strings playing in Scotland through the education system at different levels.
James Moodie, Chairman, Carnegie Dunfermline Trust Music Institute wrote to the Scotsman on 23 April 1949 (p. 4) following its report on the plaque unveiling:
It is hoped to provide a living memorial to the Gow family by the publication in convenient form of some of the compositions; other ideas put forward and under consideration are the provision of prizes for young music students in schools, prizes for annual competition at music festivals, and, if sufficient funds van be collected, one or more scholarships for music students.
On 17 August 1943 (p. 3) the paper reported on a recent meeting of the Burns Federation:
The Executive Committee, therefore, welcome the recent formation in Dunfermline of a committee to raise a fund for the endowing of an open scholarship in string playing at the Scottish National Academy of Music in memory of Niel Gow, the famous Scottish composer. The sum aimed at is £6000 and it is hoped to arrange for the publication of some of Gow’s best works in a form that will make them available to the younger generation of Scots.
At the Federation Annual Conference in Glasgow a short while later (Scotsman, 13 September 1943 (p. 3):
The annual report, embodying a proposal to raise funds for the endowment of an open scholarship in string playing at the Scottish Academy of Music in memory of Niel Gow was unanimously adopted…
I wonder, did this initiative progress? Further research is required. Perhaps the experts at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, where it is now possible to graduate in Scottish music through fiddle playing, can shed some light.