Lawrence E. Bethune's
M.U.S.I.C.s Project

Musical UniqueScottish Identifiable Characteristic


Home Dissertation Outline Introduction Scots to North Carolina Into the Crucible The Rules of MUSICs The Rules Applied Bibliography


The Context of this Study

The purpose of this study is to investigate the proposition that Scottish traditional folk tunes (from now on referred to as “Scotunes”) carried by emigrants from Scotland to America 1750–1800 survived to influence American folk music of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The writer believes that melodic forms, fragments, and tendencies from these Scotunes also survived to influence today’s contemporary popular music and produce what modern listeners recognize as fragments or forms that “sound Scottish.” That will be the foundation for further study. This study will conclude with following these tunes into the Early American Period just after the Revolutionary War at the end of the 18th Century. Two principal methods, justified later in the thesis, will underpin the study.

This part of the study is more like a crime investigation. Therefore, though not the principal method used, the concept of MMO, or motive, method, and opportunity does serve as the foundation for proving that the 18th century, colonial Carolina folk tune composers committed the “crime” of “stealing” 18th century Scottish folk tune elements when creating new music in Carolina. They were motivated by their need to create music, had the tools to create that music both as musicians and specifically as either Scottish musicians or musicians who learned Scottish music, and this also provided the opportunity as did the fact that 18th century Scottish folk tunes immigrated to Colonial Carolina and where actively present in the geographical area under study.

First, in order to document such a musical migration and show evidence of the manifestation of the Scottish tunes in newly created "American" music, it will be necessary to develop a catalog of Scotunes common to Scotland and America during this period. Second, it will also be necessary to develop a system of analysis and classification of melodies and melodic fragments and phrases for identification and comparison, and to trace the Scottish elements into the American tunes.

It is hoped that these systems will aid in further investigation, beyond this dissertation, following these melodies and melodic fragments as they evolve through American popular and folk music through the 19th and 20th centuries up to present time.
Additional benefits of this study will be to better understand how folk composers composed tunes or melodies. Much attention has been given to the evolutionary and participative "community" process of "composing" folk songs. But, much of this research uses the term “composing” almost entirely to describe the developing and varying the text of these songs. Very little attention has been given to the composing and evolution of the melodies. Almost all variations of folk songs are text variations. The melodies remain amazingly intact or, perhaps it is better to say, the variations of the tunes for each song are much less dramatic and dynamic than the variations of the words.

The writer believes that this is because almost all people are able to speak and to create stories, but very few can create melodies or document their creations for others to hear and play. Therefore, it is easy to surmise that there are very few melodies compared to stories, and that for each composed tune, there can be several sets of texts applied to it. Accepting that proposition, we can see the possibility that many tunes, phrases, and smaller tune fragments may have deep roots into humanity's distant musical past. Through this investigation, it is hoped that by developing a system tracing motifs forward from just 200 years ago, we may be able to use that information to go back 200, 400, 600 years or more to identify the spawning grounds of today's English, Celtic, and American melodies.

Folk musics of each culture have always accepted “foreign” music into their creations of new music. However, until recent times, cultures were far more isolated and the mixing of folk musics took place slowly and in seemingly small increments.

Today, pop and folk composers in our pluralistic Western society borrow freely from several folk musics to compose a single song. In 1999, British composer Sting combined American, British, African, and Algerian musical elements in his song Desert Rose (Brand New Day, Interscope Records, Santa Monica, California;1999]. Shakira, in her album “Laundry Service” (Epic Records 2001) combines Brazilian, American, African, English, and Middle Eastern musical elements. Loreena McKennitt frequently combines American, British, Celtic, African, and Middle eastern elements in most of her music. There are genres called Afro-Celt, Cajun Bluegrass, Tex Mex, and so on. Songs are composed with phrases, sections, and influences of more than one isolated culture or music.

Two Paths to Creating “New” Scottish Traditional Music

Most contemporary American popular music consists of musical elements and influences that have been passed on to us from generation to generation. Often, this transmission has either occurred orally, directly or indirectly, the distinction of which seems to have little bearing on the final product Occasionally, a composer or performer (often the same individual) has made a change or changes in the original elements of the music. It is the writer’s opinion, based on his own compositional experience, that these changes may not have been passed on to this composer from his or her indigenous culture but through contact with or influence of a “foreign” music. Sometimes, new music results through seemingly spontaneous creation, unrelated to anything the composer has heard before, but this appears to be rare (though the composer him or herself probably feels the composition is not recreation). So, it seems that composers create new music by utilizing their own aural experiences influenced by foreign music heard (or read) and perhaps by exposure through travel, recordings, or contact with “foreign” musicians.

This particular study will deal with Colonial Carolina to set the foundation for further study of the contemporary composer. Therefore, we while focusing on the colonial, we will need to keep the contemporary in our analysis. Now, in colonial Carolina, there were no recordings, and scant few written folk music documents. One may assume the process of creating new music came from exposure to one’s own culture as well as the influences of the immigrant and indigenous cultures in one’s geographical area with occaisional influences from traveling foreigners.

As a composer himself, the writer believes there are two prevalent ways through which a contemporary composer derives his or her foundation for creating new popular songs that sound “Scottish” in nature:

1) Exposure through hearing. This could be obtained through a direct oral-to-aural transmission of Scotunes or an indirect by hearing contemporary recordings or live performances of “revived” Scotunes where the listener/composer has not had the experience of the Scotune being passed to him or her directly from the original 18th century sources. This may manifest itself as an oral/aural trail, from generation to generation, from 18th century Scotland to current time. Though filtering and variation of the tunes would probably occur in this method of transmission, it is also likely that the nuances of performance, which have been historically difficult to capture in written transcription, would have a greater likelihood of survival. Nuances such as time bending, note bending, subtle or sudden changes in volume, accents, and “ornamentations.”

2) Exposure through seeing. This transmission is gained by reading written materials such as broadsheets, songbooks, lead sheets, and so forth. The assumption here is that, when music is transcribed from the performer to the written document, usually the tune is normalized or “straightened out.” Western music notation systems used in the past five hundred years do not lend themselves well toward capturing many of the subtle nuances that characterize folk performance; nuances such as time and note bending, odd meters as well as mixed meters that do not necessarily repeat with each repetition of the phrase, subtle or sudden volume changes or intonations, even unsual ornamentations).

It is therefore an assumption of the writer, if one relies on performing from or analyzing written Scotunes, it is probable that it was not possible to capture the original nuances and other elements the tune in the written material. Further, it is assumed that many of these nuances have been lost forever due to these transcription and notation limitations.

Nonetheless, we are left with these two paths. Either path could yield a set of rules through which the composer creates new music in the Scotune idiom, even if such a set of rules is not totally accurate in capturing 18th century Scotunes. We may be able to at least capture the most recognizable, characeteristic, and defining elements of those Scotunes.

If a contemporary composer were aware of the rules derived from or present in 18th century Scotunes, he or she could recreate 18th century Scotunes via strict adherence to those rules. The composer could gain awareness either through study of a written document containing the rules or by aural assimilation after being exposed to recreations of 18th Scotunes.

Let us explore these two paths.

Exposure through hearing — Direct Transmission

This path is perhaps the most common path for most all folk musics. In direct transmission, a mother sings a lullaby to her daughter, who, in turn, sings the same lullaby to her daughter. A father teaches a fiddle tune to his son, a fiddler, who then teaches it to his friends, and so on. Many complete Scotunes immigrated to Colonial North Carolina and were passed on pretty much intact via oral and written transmission. Hundreds of school and other published songbooks from the 18th century to present date can be found that have Scotunes within them (Boni 1952, Brown 1952, Brown 1962, Dann 1935, Hudson 1962, Ives 1953; McConathy 1910). Ergo, the writer assumes, and intends to prove, that whole Scotunes and fragments of Scotunes that are uniquely identifiable as “Scottish” in sound can be traced from 18th century Scotland through Colonial America and up to the present generation.

Exposure through Hearing — Indirect Transmission

Today, a composer in Nairobi, Kenya can immerse himself or herself in 18th century Scotunes simply by obtaining a library of Scotunes from recordings or through downloading them from the Internet; never having left Nairobi nor hearing live Scotunes performed. Then this composer can compose new tunes that sound like Scotunes via intuition and matching his or her composition to the “rules” he or she heard implied by these recordings. Also, one can attend concerts of contemporary bands that play tunes they also learned indirectly (as just described). Scotune collectors such as John and Alan Lomax and Hamish Henderson (Lomax 1998) have had their collections and recordings published several times and these have helped to revive Scotunes from the 18th century. The folk song revivals of America and Britain of the past sixty years has also brought Scotunes into the awareness of the composers of the past half century. These composers have not received Scotunes in a direct manner, however, the effect on their composition as compared to direct transmission may be the same.
Exposure through Seeing

We need not talk much about this method, as it is readily apparent how it works. As described above, Scotunes are either transcribed from performance or recording and documented in music notation. These tunes may be performed from or analyzed using these documents. Given that recording of music was not realized on a practical and public scale until the early 20th century, it stands to reason that contemporary composers can only gain aural exposure to the original 18th century Scotunes through direct or indirect oral transmission. These composers have access to thousands of written Scotunes. The majority of our analysis will rely on written Scotunes. However, as we shall see, since the study is attempting to identify the larger phrasal elements of Scotunes, the assumption of the “lost” nuances will probably not have a debilitating impact on isolating those elements which have survived; both in 18th century colonial Carolina as wel as the future studies into survival in 20th and 21st century popular music.

The Limits or “Rules” of the Music

Folk composers have always composed within the limits set by their audience. What are those limits? Where is the center, the “safe” place? Where are the edges, the gateway to the uncharted territory? How far can the composer go away from the accepted center and still be composing music of his or her folk audience? What tools does the composer need to compose music that fits the accepted idiom?

And the rhetoric of questioning continues when we consider the focus of the present study. What would be the rules for 18th century Scotunes found in the Highlands? What would be the rules for late 20th century pop and folk music in America that audiences declare “sounds” like it came from Scotland? Are there connections between the two? Can evidence of these “rules” be found in new music of Colonial America that can be traced to Scotunes? Can these rules be traced through the evolution of American popular music even up to the late 20th Century? What would be included in a set of rules for use by today’s composers who wish to create music sounding like 18th century Scotunes?

Also, music technology has changed the music. It has always been an interesting study to identify where the instrument has dictated the music, and vice versa. If a flute had five holes, did the number and distance dictate limitations for the composer or were the number and distance dictated by the music heard in the mind’s ear of the composer? Just as the introduction of the guitar or the piano has “straightened out” many ethnic musics that came to America, what other new instruments and technologies altered the music? Guitars create harmonic progressions for tunes that either had no harmony or perhaps implied a harmony that was not picked up by the arranger who used the guitar. The piano’s tempering also “fixed” notes that perhaps were always meant to be in the cracks.

A clear example is found in the evolution of the blues in America. Principally starting as a West African vocal music, the music changed slightly when songsters started using one-chord guitar accompaniment. Later, more Western European harmony influence affected the music and the composers started using typical harmonic progressions such as tonic-dominant-tonic. Eventually, the marriage of West African song and Western European harmony yielded the classic blues progression I-IV-I-V-IV-I (Bethune, 1989). (This is not to say that, until this meeting between Western European music and West African songs, the West African songs had no harmony or harmonic motion between sounds that Western music would call tonic, subdominant, or dominant.)

Melodically, the “blues” notes and the bending and melismatic motifs were a strong characteristic of the blues. Not hampered by the limitations of an instrument with set tones, the singer had all frequencies available and could easily “slide” between target notes and create smooth movements within their tunes and interpretations. But, adding the guitar created the need to straighten out some melodies to fit the tuning of the guitar. Going from a solo vocal blues to a group of musicians made it necessary to define and agree upon the form of tunes and even agree upon the scale and other elements that would used, further restricting the free improvisation of the singer.

When the blues “moved to the city,” even more technological restrictions occurred. One could “bend” a note with one’s voice. The guitar could bend notes. Sliding around all the frequencies between the natural and flatted third of the scale was a staple of vocal blues. But, the piano could not bend the notes. So we started hearing the piano’s attempt to duplicate the idiom through playing both the flatted and natural third degree at the same time, or making quick grace notes of the flatted third moving to the natural third.

It is interesting to note that a similar evolution or dialectic process happened to Gaelic vocal music. It, too, displayed melodies that allowed the singer to slide around and bend notes and sing “in the cracks.” It is possible that when this music met African music in Colonial Carolina, songsters from both cultures found a common ground. There may be connections there worth exploring. But, the Gaelic songs also slowly became assimilated and dominated by a stronger culture in Colonial Carolina. Slowly, the Gaelic language moved to become English language. The free movement of the melodies, both in pitch and in meter, became corralled and tempered, resembling more and more its English cousin.

In some cases, the English and the Scottish melodic elements were the same. In others, where they were different, which of the Scottish survived the dialectic to become part of the new Colonial American music?

Today, we have instruments that can replicate instruments such as bagpipes, but without the technical limits of the pipes. A synthesizer can sound like pipes; even using the “sampled” sound of actual pipes. It can play the same scale as the pipes, yet play all the notes in between and have greater range. It could even harmonize in four parts. Ergo, it sounds like pipes…but not really. The audience knows something is not right. We have reached the edge and beyond of established territory for sounding like bagpipes. So, what are the elements beyond timbre and the other qualities of sound that define what sounds like bagpipe music? This is the same territory for folk song that we wish to explore.

So, we begin our investigation by attempting to establish that the opportunity for transmission existed in colonial Carolina. That composers and performers had opportunity to be exposed to and influenced by those rules drawn from tunes carried to colonial Carolina from Scotland