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Elphinstone Kist   Music, Fiddle

The Fiddlers and Composers     by: Wheeler, Les

William Marshall was born in Fochabers in 1748. He entered the service of the Duke of Gordon and eventually became his butler. Marshall composed many tunes and quite often honoured guests of the Duke by naming tunes after them. He was generally regarded as being the best composer of strathspeys and Burns, himself a fiddler, called him The first composer of Strathspeys of the age. Marshall eventually retired to Dandaleith in Moray and when he died in 1833 he was buried in Bellie Parish churchyard near Fochabers. Among his many successful compositions were: The Marquis of Huntly’s Reel; Miss Admiral Gordon’s Reel (both Strathspeys!); The Bog o Gight; Craigaillichie Bridge and The Marquis of Huntly’s Snuff-Mill.

Alexander Walker was born in Rhynie in 1819 and besides being a musician was also an inventor, rather like Marshall another amateur inventor. This brought him to the notice of Sir Charles Forbes of Castle Newe and Walker was employed there as a gardener. He also led the Castle Newe Band and many of his compositions reflect his life in the North-East. In 1870 he emigrated to America. Just four years later the Alexander Walker Collection was published in Aberdeen. He collaborated with Scott Skinner and the young Skinner may well have been influenced by Walker. Sadly, Walker’s work was much neglected until in 1991 enthusiasts of his music in Cape Breton, Canada, re-published the collection. It is well worth exploring as it contains many notable tunes, including the reels Mar Lodge. Abergeldie Castle, Forbes Morrison, the strathspeys The Countess of Fife, Dr. Profeit (with Skinner), Lonach Hall and the fine air Aboyne Castle.

James Scott Skinner. Doyen of Scottish fiddle composers and in his work will be found the influence of all the great composers who preceded him such as the Gows, Marshall, Walker, Peter Milne and his brother Sandy Skinner, but James Scott Skinner’s compsitions and arrangements are very much those of The King as he was styled by an enthusiastic public. A marvellous player, he wrote for fiddlers who could really play. James Skinner was born in Banchory in 1833 but he left there when he was seven to live in Aberdeen and attend school in Frederick Street. When he was six he was playing in a band that contained his brother, Sandy, and Peter Milne, The Tarland Mistrel. His brother took him to the Music Hall in Aberdeen to audition for a famous juvenile orchestra, Dr. Mark’s Little Men. Skinner went off with the group to Manchester where he received tuition from Charles Rougier who was astounded to discover Skinner could not read music! Rougier soon rectified this and Skinner prospered under his tuition and eventually he ran away from Dr. Mark’s troup to return to Aberdeen. He took dancing lessons from ‘Professor’ William Scott of Stoneywood and in admiration of his tutor added ‘Scott’ to his own name. Skinner set himself up as a teacher of dancing and music and never looked back.

He won various prizes for dancing and at 19 years of age won the Scottish Fiddle Championship at Inverness. He was engaged by Queen Victoria to teach dancing to the employees of the Royal estates and his concert appearances drew large appreciative audiences. As a composer he had few equals and his work is still played world wide and every fiddle ensemble includes his work in their repertoire. Skinner died in 1927 and was buried at Allenvale Cemetery, Aberdeen. Skinner wrote some 600 tunes and among his most popular are The Bonnie Lass o BonAccord; The Cradle Song; The Flower o the Quern; The Laird o Drumblair; The Miller o Hirn; Our Highland Queen; The Cameron Highlanders; Bonnie Banchory; Tulchan Lodge and The Laird o Thrums

John Murdoch Henderson(1902-1970). Henderson was born in New Deer, a near neighbour of the respected folk-song collector Gavin Greig. Henderson became a mathematics teacher in Aberdeen and took a particular interest in how his contemporaries interpreted fiddle music and recorded much of the information. An accident prevented Henderson playing well, but his work on other fiddlers and their style is invaluable and the re-publication in the 1980s of his outstanding The Flowers of Scottish Melody was an important addition to the fiddlers’ library. One of Henderson’s great influences was James F. Dickie of Old Deer, a renowned Nortrh East fiddler who, sadly, was never recorded commercially. It was Dickie’s son-in-law, James Duncan, founder of the Buchan Heritage Society, who was largely responsible for the re-publication of Henderson’s work. Dickie’s expertise at the slow strathspey encouraged Henderson to write and two of his better known compositions are the reel J. F. Dickie and the slow strathspey J. F. Dickie’s Delight

Hector MacAndrew(1903-1980) a player and teacher was born in Fyvie. His style was greatly influential on many of todays’ players and he was a frequent performer on radio, television and the concert platform. His most famous television appearance was when he attempted to teach Yehudi Menuhin the skills necessary to master Scottish fiddle music, in particular the strathspey. Sir Yehudi obviously learned much from Hector for he was later to write: The genuine Scottish fiddler....is a master of his distinctive and inimitable style, which is more than can be said of most ‘schooled’ musicians. We classical violinists have too obviously paid a heavy price for bring able to play with orchestras and follow a conductor. Hector was renowned as a player of the highest calibre but he did compose and a collection of his pieces is shortly due for publication.

Bert Murray was born in 1913 and is well-known as the grand old man of Scottish Fiddle. He has made countless appearances on radio and television and is still performing. In July 1995 he toured Cape Breton where his music has a large following. He has produced 17 books of fiddle music in his BonAccord Collection series and written more than 500 tunes. Among Bert’s most popular works are Sean Maguire; Oor Wullie(written in honour of the late, great Willie Hunter of Lerwick) The Forties; Hazel’s Delight; The T.M.S.A. March and Robbie’s Reel. Bert was honoured with the M.B.E. for his services to Scottish music in 2000.

Bill Hardie was born in Aberdeen in 1916. He was much influenced by J.F. Dickie and J. Murdoch Henderson. He was a member of the renowned Hardie dynsaty of fiddlers and fiddle makers and his son, Alistair, is himself a superb player, composer and publisher. Bill Hardie conducted the Aberdeen Strathspey & Reel Society, taught in schools and judged and adjudicated while still managing a heavy concert programme - in every instance he spread knowledge of the instrument he played with such skilled aplomb. Bill also composed music and his book The Beauties of the North is a treasure trove of settings for the fiddle by composers whose music he had done so much to enhance.

Les Wheeler

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Reading List

Scottish Fiddlers and Their Music - Mary Ann Alburger(Gollancz 1983)
The Caledonian Companion - Alistair J. Hardie(Hardie Press 1992)
The Fiddle Music of Scotland - James Hunter(Hardie Press 1988)
The Bon Accord Collection(17 volumes) - Bert Murray
Alexander Walker Collection - (Cranford pub. Cape Breton 1991)
The Scottish Violinist - J. Scott Skinner(Bayley & Fergusson Ltd.)
The Logie Collection - J. Scott Skinner(City of Aberdeen Library Services)
The Flowers of Scottish Melody - John Murdoch Henderson(Reprint 1985)
The Skye Collection - Keith N. MacDonald(Scott’s Highland Services, Ontario)
Fifty Fiddle Solos - Aly Bain(Conway Editing 1989)
The Gow Collection - ed. Richard Carlin(Oak Pub. New York 1986)



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