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Exploring the songs of Burns



Like many others we have carried on with our Burns Suppers this year albeit online and in virtual events. Its not quite the same but it has been lovely to share the music and history of songs with friends and folk of a like mind. Hearing from people who have enjoyed the music has been lovely and keeping in touch is so important. I’m hoping to write a few more blogs more regularly in the coming weeks so keep watching this space!


As its Burns Nicht the nicht we wanted to post a couple of songs on our PlaidSong YouTube Part of what we do is to explore the history of the songs and try to share the music with a wee understanding of why it was written or where the tune comes from. It is notoriously difficult to pin down tunes and airs and the idea that there is an exact origin of some traditional tunes is tricky. In truth, that is the best part of singing traditional music – it changes, there are various versions, the music evolves and has done over many years. When we study old publications of music we can see how tunes are set with certain words and then, in later editions, these change or there are slightly different versions and often different notes about the tune or words. This all adds to the enjoyment of the Scots tradition - and other traditions that have been incorporated into it, such as Irish, English or Scandinavian.


Prof Kirsteen McCue of the Glasgow University centre for Burns studies is interviewed in today’s Times and she is talking about Burns and Auld Lang Syne. The research she has undertaken shows that the tune we all sing this song to is not the one Burns originally submitted to his publisher with the words! Carolina, Lady Nairne has her own version of Auld Lang Syne too so there are various options when we think of a song, even one as well known as Auld Lang Syne.


See our video below for a wee chat and the song Burns wrote for his first love - his Handsome Nell.



Some of this also inspires musicians and singers today because we understand, and love, that old tradition of adapting tunes and airs. We know about working with old poems and words, setting them to music, and this is an age old tradition. It is what PlaidSong also like to do in our own songs: explore the historical context of old songs and think about the tunes and so on but also use old tunes and words to create new music.


Two of our favourites in this next video. We particularly enjoy singing some of the songs which do not always get performed very often - so here's the Birks o Aberfeldy and Aye Waukin O.


A Rosebud by My Early Walk, Westlin Winds and many others can be found on our CD - details on the music page.




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