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Monday 13 May 2013

A Letter from Lomax

Dated the 12th of July 1951, and typed on an official BBC letterhead, Calum Maclean received a letter from Alan Lomax. The renowned American ethnomusicologist arrived in Scotland to collect material earlier that year. Having met with Hamish Henderson to discuss how best to go about collecting, Lomax was put into contact with the MacLean brothers, Calum and Sorley. Calum, who had just arrived back from Ireland, became the first collector for the School of Scottish Studies in January 1951. For the past six years Maclean had recorded extensively in the Southern Hebrides as well as on the mainland Highlands and everywhere he went he seems to have acquired a nose to track down the folk from whom he could collect the best materials. Lomax benefited greatly from Maclean’s extensive knowledge, experience and assistance as he duly acknowledges in the following letter:
Dear Calum
Your introductions and contacts in the Hebrides provided me with the most enjoyable and fruitful recording trip in years. I have never met a set of people I liked as well anywhere and the astonishing number of beautiful tunes that came pouring into the microphone completely astonished me. If all the rest of the tunes of the world were to be suddenly wiped out by an evil magician, the Hebrides could fill up the gap without half trying.
Everywhere people spoke highly of you, asked to be remembered to you and your name was an Open Sesame. I made about ten hours of recordings, only a small number of which I shall be able to use for [the] BBC and in my album. If you have any interest in the material, a list of which his enclosed, I shall be glad to have your suggestions about its disposition.
Please give my regards to Dr. Erixson and Dr. Campbell and consider me eternally in your debt.
Yours sincerely,
Alan Lomax
Calum MacLean, Esq.
c/o Dr. MacIntosh
A selection of Lomax’s recorded materials was made into an album which appeared as a Scottish version of the World Albums of Folk and Primitive Music and was issued by Columbia Records. Maclean’s generosity in assisting a fellow collector was not shared in this instance by John Lorne Campbell who turned on his friend which led to a bitter if short-lived feud between the two. The two main issues of contention between Campbell and Lomax came down to folklore research ethics and the (subsequently misunderstood) commercial exploitation over copyright issues with regard to fieldwork recordings. Maclean through no fault of his own was caught between the two. 
Letter from Alan Lomax to Calum Maclean, dated 12 July 1951. Courtesy of Cailean Maclean. 
Alan Lomax

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