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Tuesday 25 February 2014

John Lorne Campbell and FIOS (Folklore Institute of Scotland)

Although Calum Maclean had very little to do with FIOS (Folklore Institute of Scotland), his colleague and close friend, John Lorne Campbell (1906–1996), certainly did. In a letter printed in The Scotsman newspaper, Campbell set out a vision of how oral traditions were in urgent need of being recorded. Up until around that time, the institutional neglect of preserving the fast-dying Gaelic oral traditions was a concern not only for Campbell but also for other like-minded individuals. Campbell had the necessary drive and energy to do something about this and he, along with a few others, founded the Folklore Institute of Scotland (FIOS)in 1947, largely based upon the Irish Folklore Commission (founded a dozen years earlier), which shared similar objectives. The rather ill-starred FIOS only lasted five years as it soon became obsolete with the foundation of the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh in 1951. In his letter, Campbell gives a brief overview of the recent efforts made in Scotland to record and preserve oral traditions and makes recommendations for the best ways in which such efforts may be done in the years ahead:

Gaelic Folk-Songs: Work of the Collectors
by J. L. Campbell, President of the Folklore Institute of Scotland

Now that the Edinburgh Festival is an established annual event, it is to be hoped that Scottish people will be roused to take a fresh interest in their own heritage of folk-music, for in spite of the fact that some Scottish eighteenth and nineteenth century collections of folk-songs were in advance of work done in other countries at that time, the start has hardly been maintained.
The controversy that raged in the correspondence columns of The Scotsman a year ago on the question of the treatment of Gaelic folk-songs by the late Mrs Kennedy Fraser show at any rate, that interest in the subject is alive. It would be as well if this interest could be directed into the practical channels of recording, transcribing, and publishing the surviving songs before it is too late; there are a great many more of these in existence than is generally realised, but they are usually well known only to people over 50 or 60 years of age.

The Gaelic Idiom

It is very unfortunate that the work of a single well known folk-song collector and arrangeror perhaps rather the uncritical admirers of her work─has had the effect of laying a dead hand on research in this field. Writers such as Sir Robert Raft and George Pryde in Scotland in the Modern World series, and G. M. Thomson in A Short History of Scotland, have suggested that, but for Mrs. Kennedy Fraser, nothing would have survived, and that her arrangements are improvements on the originals.
The latter assertion can be dealt with briefly. I doubt whether any of the critics who had made it have ever heard the originals, or were familiar with the idiom of the originals. Gaelic music is not a barbaric idiom that has to be polished for refined ears; such a notion is absurd; but it has had to be bowdlerised and sentimentalised for ears that have been unfamiliar with modal folk-songs sung in the natural scale (which are really hardly susceptible of harmonisation) and for listeners who had subjective notions of the Celtic Twilight.
We may indeed be grateful to Mrs Kennedy Fraser for braving the hardships of travelling to the Islands in the old days and arousing public interest in our folk-songs; but the arrangements she published have no scientific value and the notion that she has exhausted the subject has done great harm.
Some statistical information on the latter point is of interest. Examining the four volumes of Songs of the Hebrides one finds therein 214 arranged songs and 121 unaltered airs given in the prefaces as specimens of Hebridean music. The latter have far more interest for serious students of folk-music than any other part of the books, but unfortunately many of them are printed without any words at all, and none give more than the opening verse. However, they are objective, at any rate.

Wealth of Material

Comparing the work of other objective collectors of whom there have not been many, one finds
Miss Frances Tolmie 105 folk-songs from Skye, complete with words and translations, Journal of the Folksong Society, 1911. Some of these airs were utilised by Mrs Kennedy Fraser.
Miss Lucy Broadwood, 72 songs, mostly from Arisaig district, word deficient; same Journal.
Miss Amy Murray, 26 airs published in the Celtic Review and Fr. Allan’s Island; 15 airs known to exist in MS., of which a photostat copy is in possession of the Folklore Institute of Scotland. Miss Murray is known to have collected at least 150 airs in the Island of Eriskay, the MS. of which is being searched for (at the instigation of this Institute) in America at present. Words often lacking.
Miss Margaret Fay Shaw, 12 songs from Uist in the English Folksong Journal, with translations and notes. Miss Shaw has over 100 other songs collected in Uist, as yet unpublished.
Mr Calum MacLean, working for the Irish Folklore Commission, has recorded over 70 in Raasay and Canna and 170 in Benbecula.
The writer and other collaborators working under the aegis of the Folklore Institute of Scotland have recorded 500 folksongs in Barra, Eriskay, Morar, Canna, South Uist, and Cape Breton, since 1937.
The Linguistic Survey of Scotland has already recorded a number of Gaelic songs.

Although there is certainly some overlapping among these collections, what has been done already proves beyond doubt that the total amount of material in existence must be very large indeed─certainly something to compare with the 5000 English folksongs which have been collected, or with collections made in Ireland by the Irish Folklore Commission, or with the 7000 folk-songs collected in Hungary by Bartók and Kodály─something, that is to say, far in excess of what is popularly realised.
Most of the early collectors were greatly handicapped by not knowing Gaelic themselves and by lacking efficient mechanical means of recording the airs, for writing down from the singers themselves is a most laborious and slow process. The whole subject has received a fresh impetus from the perfecting of portable mechanical means of recording on tape, wire, or discs. Now that these devices exist it is most urgent that the work of collecting our folk-music should proceed on a systematic and scientific basis.

An Urgent Need

There are still hundreds, if not thousands, of folk-songs to be collected in Scotland, particularly in the Hebrides. There is still time to do what has hardly been attempted, viz., the collection and collation of versions of the same song as sung by different singers in different places. There is still time to trace out persons living in Canada and other Dominions who have emigrated from Scotland, or whose forebears emigrated from Scotland, bearing part of this tradition with them.
It will, indeed, be a grave reproach to all who are associated with the study of the humanities in Scotland if no co-ordinated attempt be made to recover this material before it is too late. In the past this work has been hampered by political and utilitarian prejudices, but these should not be allowed to operate to-day. It is certainly no credit to Scotland that hitherto such work has been left to amateurs and that the only outlet for the publication of Scottish Gaelic folk songs is still the Journal of the English Folk-Dance and Folk-Song Society.
It is essential, in other words, that the collection, recording, transcription, and cataloguing of our folklore should be put on a proper whole-time basis, as is done in Ireland, Scandinavia, and the United States. It cannot be left to amateurs, even though Scotland may have been exceptionally fortunate having has amateur folklore collector of the stature of J. F. Campbell of Islay, Alexander Carmichael, Frances Tolmie in the past. For this purpose, the endowment of a body in Scotland similar to the Irish Folklore Commission would be the best step; but the universities, the B.B.C. and the Scottish Education Department ought to co-operate and aid this work to the fullest possible extent.
The need is urgent; the older people who preserved this lore are passing away─well known Barra folk-singers have died within the last 12 months, for instance. The expense of the work puts it beyond the means of amateurs and unendowed bodies. The dignity and intrinsic merit and significance for the cultural life of Scotland demand that it be recognised as an important object of research and adequately carried out. As folk-music is the basis for all national music and how can Scottish music flourish at the top, if its roots are neglected?

John Lorne Campbell’s plea for further efforts to be made in order to record material did not fall upon deaf ears. He along with other advocates such as Angus McIntosh and James Hamilton Delargy, Director of the Irish Folklore Commission, were instrumental in gaining support in Scotland and beyond for an institution to be set up in order to scientifically record Scotland’s intangible cultural heritage. With the foundation of the School of Scottish Studies, Calum Maclean was transferred on a three-year loan (which subsequently became permanent) to be its first fieldwork collector and researcher. Along with his colleagues, Maclean had his work cut out for him and the recordings made by him in the School’s first decade formed not an insubstantial part of an ongoing sound archive consisting of over 12,000 hours of various materials.

J. L. Campbell, ‘Gaelic Folk-Songs: Work of Collectors’, The Scotsman (17 Sep., 1949), p. 9

John Lorne Campbell as a young man and FIOS logo

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