2010-01, Dulcimer Players News Vol. 36 No. 1

Page 30

Learn A Strathspey:

Braes of Tulliemet

by Steve Eulberg


ike many dulcimer players, I am drawn to play traditional tunes of the British Isles when I play both hammered and mountain dulcimer. Flowing airs are achingly lovely. Hornpipes are fun in their bouncy, long-short, swing pattern. Reels are exhilarating as they fly by at downhill speeds. Jigs—single, double and slip—are where I am most at home. Yet, there is something about a strathspey that stirs my heart in a way none of the others can! What is it about strathspeys that makes me love them so? Let me count the ways: • The confident way that the strathspey rhythms march in stately procession. • The inclusive use of the Scottish snap, hornpipe, and triplet figures. • The way they bedevil me as I try to play them in a regal fashion! • The quick action they require of the hammered dulcimer player! • The opportunities for mountain dulcimer players to use the fun articulations of hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides! (And I’m only getting started!)

Let’s compare these rhythms above. A reel (measure 1) has straight rhythm with no altered eighth or quarter notes. Hornpipes (measure 2) have a regular dotted-eighth, sixteenth note (or longshort) pattern. Unique to Scottish music, the snap (measure 3) is the reverse of the hornpipe’s rhythm. The short (sixteenth) note precedes the long (dotted eighth) note and is accented. Saying aloud these English words can aid in learning the rhythm of the snap: PEN-ny, NICK-el, HAMmer. In each case, the first syllable is accented; but when pronounced, we linger a little longer on the second syllable. Try it! You can get into the swing of it pretty well, can’t you? Now that you’ve got that down, let’s put the snap back

into the context of a strathspey. You can see that what makes these tunes so devilishly tricky (and delightful!) is that the snap is mixed in with the regular dottedeighth, sixteenth, and triplet patterns that we already know. The Braes of Tulliemet I learned this tune from Sara Johnson’s Kitchen Musician Collection Number 10: The Airs and Melodies of Scotland’s Past. Johnson notes that she found this tune in Robert Petrie’s (1767-1830) Fourth Collection of Strathspeys, Reels, Jigs & Country Dancing, published in Edinburgh in 1805. Ceolas: The Fiddler’s Companion notes that while the tune is often ascribed to Petrie, an award-winning fiddler who published several tune

What is a strathsp ey? Strathspey is the name given to a Scottish tune type that, as many Celtic tunes, is related to a dance. Tutored by Flora MacDonald Gammon, I learned to dance the strathspey and can testify that it is an elegant and energetic Scottish country dance that also left me breathless! Its Scottish Gaelic name is given for the strath (a wide, shallow valley) along the fast-moving river Spey in northern Scotland. The Spey River flows from its origin in the highlands through Morayshire to empty into Spey Bay at the Moray Firth. Rhythm is the defining characteristic of a strathspey. In 4/4, or common, time, these tunes combine the dotted rhythms and triplet figures of hornpipes with what is known as the snap. 28 DPN

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