Scotland's Traditional Music and Song as Cultural, Social, and Economic Assets

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This paper explores the complexities of the sacred and the secular dimensions of expressive culture in North-East Scottish fishing villages. Here community hymns, gospel music, male-voice choir performance, karaoke, religious addresses, and prayers are combined in a vernacular performance that is manifested in religious soirées held in village/public/church halls. Here the evangelical hymns of Sankey rub shoulders with praise songs of recent/local composition, male-voice close harmony singing contrasts with teenage female duets, a guest preacher delivers an address, a ‘master-of-ceremonies’ cements the experience with jokes and anecdotes in a strong local Scots tongue, and ‘party’ refreshments are served. Certain hymns with motifs about the sea, loss of life, or danger, mostly dating from the nineteenth century, mark out the performance and clearly resonate with the local communities. Such traditions require a vital social basis for their continued social practice (Bohlman 1988:53). Thus, not only is the soirée experience understood in terms of its musical constituents, but also the nature of the whole event is examined from the perspective of artists’ performances and audience receptions. The role of the soirée is considered within contemporary contexts, with references to its continuities and innovations, in relation to the community within which it interacts (observing hierarchies and the role of gender), and how cultural distinctiveness is manifested through it. In an anti-modernist stance, Abrahams (2005:148) identifies the spirit of cultural insurgency demonstrated by folklore studies in its focus on everyday culture, noting that: ‘In vernacular vigour we trust’. The principles of this discourse are summed up by Berger and Del Negro (2004:19-22) in a series of programmatic statements, for example, that all people are capable of creative activity, that scholars should not impose external value systems, and that good ethnography foregrounds participant perspectives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-137
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Irish and Scottish Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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