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Elphinstone Kist   Traditional Ballad, Music

Traditional Ballads in North East Scotland     by: Wheeler, Les

The habit of ballad singing in North East Scotland is still fairly common - anyone visiting the traditional music festivals at Keith and Strichen can testify to that fact - and it is a tradition that goes back many centuries. John Barbour, the 14th. century Archdeacon of Aberdeen, mentions this in his epic The Brus.

Many of the ballads have, of course, been lost but enough survive to provide present day singers with a cornucopia of delights. It is important to remember that the ballads were meant to be sung and that as they were largely transmitted they are sung to quite a number of differing tunes and the words tend to vary quite significantly also.

There can be little doubt that the North East is the real home of the ballad. The Border Ballad title is simply a wrong reading of all evidence - Sir Walter Scott got the best of his material from a North East lady, Mrs. Brown of Falkland. The late Prof. F.J. Child, in his English and Scottish Popular Ballads, which is the accepted standard collection of its kind, noted that of his a texts, the most important, 91 out of a grand total of 305 ballads came from the North East - in fact from Aberdeenshire. One in every three of his chief Scottish texts come from the same area.

Les Wheeler

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