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Celtic & Scottish Studies Blog

Celtic & Scottish Studies Blog

Traditional arts, languages and culture in Scotland

Reflections on making a concert, re-imagining the music of Eliza Ross’s Manuscript.

Earlier this year, on 26th Feb, I had the pleasure of presenting a concert in the Reid Hall, Edinburgh, featuring a selection of music from the manuscripts of Eliza Ross of Raasay, collected in the early 1800’s, now re-imagined for performance in duo setting. Accompanying my various wind instruments, Scottish small-pipes, low whistle, soprano saxophone and Bulgarian kaval, was the great Scottish piano player, Dave Milligan who played upon a large Steinway grand piano – making an interesting juxtaposition with some of my smaller ‘folk’ instruments.

I asked Dave to work on this music with me for several reasons.  Of the great piano players, Dave has perhaps more experience and insight in the realms of traditional music in Scotland than others, and we’ve played together in a variety of settings previously. Therefore, before we play a note in rehearsal there’s a confidence and understanding which gives us a leap toward our end goal – always left open – a stylistically satisfying contemporary interpretation of the music being a minimum threshold. I say contemporary as we weren’t fettered by concerns of what anything should sound like, and we both inherently use vocabulary more associated with the jazz genre.

We had the good fortune to perform some of the music and chat to Anna Massie on BBC Radio Scotland’s Travelling Folk program, the Thursday before the concert.

Dave Milligan records for Travelling Folk at BBC Radio Scotland, Feb 2023

Dave Milligan at BBC Radio Scotland studio, Glasgow, 23/02/2023

I’m pleased the BBC have allowed me share, for educational purposes, the recordings we made on our visit to their Glasgow studio:

(Above:  #105 from the Eliza Ross Collection – ‘Unnamed Air’ – perhaps composed by Elizabeth Ross herself, as it has a markedly different in character to much of the rest of the collection.)

(Above: ‘Haing il haing u‘ – 3 reels and a jig form this set from the ER manuscript. All were unknown to me previously –  the tune titles are:

  1. Haing il Haing U 
  2. 2. An gabh thu bean, a Dhomhnaill? / Will you take a wife, Donald?
  3. Cuir ‘sa chiste mhoir mi / Put me in the big chest 
  4. The Highland lassie going to the fair

(Above: ‘Unnamed Air‘ #142 from ER manuscripts as published recently – would seem to be the melody to a work song, given it’s construction – here given an instrumental treatment.)

Fraser Fifield with Dave Milligan @ Reid Hall, Edinburgh, Feb '23

Fraser Fifield with Dave Milligan @ Reid Hall, Edinburgh, Feb ’23




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