A volunteer reflects on Traditional Tunes at MUSA

This guest blog entry comes from Si Drennan, who has been volunteering at MUSA since June. Here, she reflects on our recent music event at MUSA

Hearing the words “Scottish folk music” generally evokes pictures of Scottish

MUSA poster music event

When I first saw the words ‘traditional tunes’ I thought of William Wallace, running through the Highlands with his kilt flapping in the wind…

heroes, like William Wallace, running through the Highlands with his kilt flapping in the

wind. Yep, that is highly stereotypical, but I am, after all American. My name is Si, and I

have been lucky enough to live in St Andrews twice now, and this time to accomplish my

Master’s in Modern History. So the chance to work/volunteer at MUSA was an

opportunity I didn’t want to miss; to learn about the University itself and thus Scotland in

general was too good to pass up. But I digress.

        On September 21st, MUSA hosted an intimate showing of two musicians, who

performed Scottish traditional or folk music. I was excited to volunteer for the show and

was disappointed to realize that I had no kilt, no ghillie shirt, and no sporran…how would

I ever carry my flask and matching lip gloss? I figured it would be the kind of Celtic

music I have heard in soundtracks, or, conversely, at a ceilidh. The latter posed a

problem, not much room for dancing at MUSA.

       To my surprise, when I arrived to help set up, there were chairs arranged in the

last gallery, dedicated at the time to the history of St Andrews Graduation ceremony.

The upstairs was set up with all sorts of biscuits (whomever ate the last of the Jaffa

cakes is not on my nice list), wines, juices, tea, and coffee.

        When the concert actually began, I was still upstairs setting up, and I was, quite

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The graduation exhibition was a great setting for the music

frankly, taken by surprise by what I heard. I can honestly say that I have never heard

music like it. It had a Celtic feel but was not what was used in movies or Scottish dance

halls. It felt like a painting, sort of swirling with different colors, tones, and movements.

        I went downstairs to enjoy the visual aspect of the concert. Owen Sinclair, the guitarist, and Rebecca Skeoch, who played the clarsach (see, I never knew the name of

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The music event drew tourists, locals and students to the museum

that instrument, and would have simply said, harp), were so at ease with their

performance, it could have been a mere practice session. Everything about the concert

felt intimate, cozy, and almost like jumping through time.

       The audience was made up of every age; students, visitors, and locals alike. My

own children came to enjoy the music and spontaneously clapped at the end of every

song. Smiles, closed eyes, and thoughtful expressions showed that everyone was

taking it in. I was taking it in. It was truly a unique occasion.

        I learned something that day. Scotland is certainly more than what is sold as

inherently Scottish. It is more than ceilidhs, kilts, and whiskey. It has instruments of

gaelic/celtic origins, and the music isn’t always what you expect. It is full of connections

to other histories and cultures. This is why I love Scotland actually, it is always full of

history, and it is always beautiful. I walked in with preconceived notions of what Scottish

music meant. I left with a deeper appreciation for Scotland itself.

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