Published Jan. 18, 2005
Scottish fiddle music is an enchanting music dialect, resonating with the culture and history of Highlands and isles, and the titles of tunes or songs can lead down fascinating byways. Many unusual words in the Scots dialect are of Gaelic origin, and some are Germanic with a Scots burr.
“Wha Wadna Fecht For Charlie?” (Who Wouldnt Fight For Charlie?) is an 18th-century Scottish fight song. Bonnie Prince Charlie tried to retake the throne of England from the House of Hanover in 1745, and many Scots still revere him. In the movie “The Great Escape,” two Scotsmen danced in a circle and sang this song when they heard the first tunnel was nearly complete.
“Loch Lomond” is that rare Scottish song that almost everyone knows. It is possibly about a follower of Bonnie Prince Charlie who is about to be executed. He tells his fiance he’ll take the low road, or the grave. Another famous loch is Loch Ness, home of the monster. A Gaelic word meaning lake, loch is a common geographic term, the Irish spelling is lough, and lochan is a small lake. Lochaber, a district in northwest Scotland on the west end of the Grampian Mountains, includes Ben Nevis, the highest peak in Great Britain. The traditional music group Boys of the Lough plays frequently on the radio show “A Prairie Home Companion.”
“The Muckin of Geordie’s Byre” is a Scottish jig in the Dorian mode, an old scale now found mostly in traditional music that so perfectly evokes the Highlands. Muck, from Old English, is barnyard manure and is also a verb meaning to clean up manure. A byre is a British term for stall. I don’t know if Geordie was an animal or a person.
“Birks of Endermay” is a lovely Scottish country dance tune. Birk means birch, the ch often becoming k in Scotland, also seen in kirk, or kurk, the Scottish word for church, from Old English cirice. Kirk appears in many place names.
Airt, a Gaelic word, means a direction or point of the compass. Robert Burns used “Miss Admiral Gordon’s Strathspey,” a slower, jagged type of reel, written by fiddle-composer William Marshall, for “Of All The Airts The Wind Can Blow,” a slow love song.
“Scone Palace” is a fiddle reel written by Alexander Walker in the 1800s, a reel being a fast dance in 4/4 time. Scottish kings were crowned on The Stone of Scone, or Stone of Destiny, a rectangular block of yellow sandstone decorated with a Celtic cross, in central Scotland near Perth. Legend says the stone was Jacob’s pillow in the Holy Land. The stone was taken to Ireland and carried to Scotland circa 840 by Kenneth McAlpin, the traditional founder of the Scottish kingdom. England’s Edward I stole the stone in 1296, and the stone was taken to Westminster Abbey and placed beneath the coronation chair. It was rightfully returned to Scotland in 1996. Stane is a Scottish variant of stone.
“The Bonnie Lass O Bon Accord” is a slow violin tune written by James Scott Skinner, another famous fiddle-composer, in 1884 for Wilhelmina Bell, an accomplished dancer, whose father played bass fiddle with Skinner’s father. Bonny, or bonnie, means having a pleasing appearance and is from Old French bon, for good. Bon Accord, which means Happy to meet, sorry to part, happy to meet again, is the nickname of Aberdeen, the home of Wilhelmina, and is etched over the city gates. The opening bars of the tune are inscribed on Skinner’s gravestone.
A tender Scottish love song, “Come Under My Plaidie” invites a lassie to keep warm under the traditional Highland cloak, a large piece of woolen tartan cloth that was wrapped around the entire body, pleated around the waist and draped over the shoulder. Its offspring is the kilt, which was invented in the mid-1800s. Plaid is a Gaelic word meaning a garment or material with a criss-cross pattern. A plaid featured the clan tartan, a specific arrangement of colors, stripes and blocks to be worn only by members of the clan.