The Performance of Scottish Fiddle Music: or, Living Tradition

Ronnie Miller Gibson

Research output: Contribution to conferenceUnpublished paper


The fiddle music of Scotland has been in continuous transmission since the violin first arrived there in the last quarter of the seventeenth century. Alburger has developed this further, by speculatively identifying continuities with a pre-violin fiddle tradition extending back to medieval times. For many fiddlers in the present, this link with the distant past imbues a special meaning to their performances, whether communicated through the tunes they play, the context in which they are performed, or an individual player’s musical lineage. In addition, the recent and ongoing reissuing of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century collections of tunes in print and online, and the digitisation of sound archives, has made the rich heritage of Scottish fiddle music accessible to a global audience for the first time, with fiddlers beginning to make extensive use of historical collections and archive recordings when devising both recital and dance programmes. However, tensions have emerged between normative and historical approaches to performance, and competing traditions, each of which makes their own claims for authenticity. In this paper, the continuous transmission of Scottish fiddle music will be interrogated in an attempt to determine its significance and implications for fiddlers in the present. While many fiddlers in Scotland today are able to play both Scottish traditional music and Western art music, there remains a qualitative difference in the performance style of each repertoire, serving to highlight the parallel but independent historical trajectories of Scottish fiddle and ‘Classical’ violin performing practice. More so, the Scottish tradition of fiddling, marked as it is by an unusually complex mediation between literacy and aurality, provides an especially revealing context within which to investigate broader issues of musical transmission, embracing technical, social, cognitive, and institutional aspects.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jul 2013
EventInternational Council for Traditional Music World Conference - Shanghai Conservatory of Music, Shanghai, China
Duration: 10 Jul 201317 Jul 2013


ConferenceInternational Council for Traditional Music World Conference


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