Preparing Scottish tunes for my cousin William’s wedding

My cousin William recently asked me to play at his wedding in the Lake District this Saturday (9th april). I’ve been spending quite a lot of time preparing what to play, and I thought I’d take you through the process I’ve been through so that I can make it a bit easier the next time I have to do something like this!

Step 1: Decide on which broad category of music to play (eg classical/folk/popular)

I chose Scottish tunes as William met his fiance at Edinburgh university, and they are having a ceilidh at the reception, plus scottish fiddle tunes work well on the viola

Step 2: Choose specifics of music (eg which piece/tunes)

This took me a wee while, I must say…

Eventually I settled on traditional scottish airs, reels and strathspeys from a book I own called ‘Scottish Folk Tunes’ edited by Kevin McCrae and Neil Johnstone. However, all the tunes are written in Bass clef- an added complication when figuring out keys and how they fit together with other tunes on the viola, which uses alto clef! Good thing I play the cello too sometimes so can just about transpose/forget about the fact that I’m reading bass clef on the viola, which messes with my head slightly!

Step 3: Edit tunes to my own requirements: fingerings, bowings, slurs, dots and ornaments.

Like all traditional music, fiddle tunes are subject to constant interpretation by players and so one printed version may not be exactly the same as another printed version. This is mainly due to folk music being passed down from family to family via oral tradition – fiddlers and pipers simply learnt pieces by ear from their parents or contemporaries, and usually no one bothered to write them down, or in some cases couldn’t write them down as they were unable to read music or write notes on a stave.

In my case, the book I mentioned above is pretty good and is very well laid out and interpreted, so there wasn’t too much re-editing to do, just some ‘hooked’ bowings to work out and fingerings to write in.

Step 4: Figure out an order to play the tunes in which makes sense to me and the listener

I’ve changed my mind several times over this! It all depends on the speed of the tune (eg a slow air is obviously pretty relaxed in tempo, and a reel or strathspey is faster) and the keys and whether the modulation sounds ‘right’ to the listener’s ear. I’m not that practiced at this yet so I hope my ‘set’ is going to make musical sense on saturday 🙂

Here is the ‘finished version’ of my set:

1. Farewell to Whisky by Niel Gow (for those of you who know William, this is particularly appropriate 😀 )

2. Laird of Drumblair by J Scott Skinner

3. De’il Amang the Tailors – not sure, I think this is traditional

4. Auld Lang Syne – traditional tune used at Hogmanay

Encore if necessary – Spey in Spate by Scott Skinner

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