What Makes Scottish Music Scottish?

This story was submitted to us by Valerie.

When I was growing up there was always music on in the house. It took different forms depending on what was going on. When my mother was cleaning, she would put on an album by a Scottish group called the Corries and would set off singing along with the Braes o’ Killiecrankie.

It was my first introduction to music quintessentially Scottish. It had something in it that was culturally Scots as opposed to it being generic music being made by people who come from Scotland.

The Bagpipe is a good starting place

The sound of the bagpipes is associated with Scotland in a special way. It is one of the country’s national symbols along with the thistle. The Great Highland Bagpipe, which is the instrument that comes to mind when someone says the word, is native to Scotland. But the sound of the bagpipe is common in all types of Celtic music. Irish traditional music has bagpipes as does music from Brittany in France.

That sound that is so Scottish needs the clàrsach (Scottish Harp), the fiddle, percussion instruments, and the guitar as well.

Add in vocals

Then, of course, there are the vocals. Back to the Braes for a moment. Half of the reason the song was so powerful is in its Scots lyrics:

Where hae ye been sae braw, lad?

Where hae ye been sae brankie-o?

If you speak English you sort of understand; hae and sae (which don’t rhyme) easily equate to have and so. But braw and brankie? There is one thing you’re absolutely sure about, it is Scottish music.

Yet singing with a Scottish accent is not the answer either. Annie Lennox sings and speaks with a Scots accent, yet her music is not Scots. The Proclaimers sing and speak with a Scottish accent and their music most definitely is Scottish.

If you watch a rugby international in which Scotland is playing you will hear the crowd proclaiming their willingness to ‘walk 500 miles’. It has nothing to do with rugby and everything to do with being Scottish.

Scottish music is alive and well

The art form has scope for all sorts of variations on traditional ideas and roots and develops them into something that resonates today. Importantly though, it can still trace its heritage back to where it originally came from.

There’s an intricacy of relationships

Scottish dancing which is just as potent needs Scots music. The Ceilidh (pronounced Kaylee) is as popular today as ever, and it is not just a thing of the rural community. You can find a ceilidh in Glasgow and Edinburgh anytime.

Music is the enshrinement of culture

Here’s the real reason why Scottish music is as vibrant as ever. It carries with it the essence of Scottishness. It provides a link to home for expats. It provides a reminder for those at home of what it means to be a minority culture and how to cling to the meaning of being a Scot.