Traditional music has always been a cultural phenomenon in Scotland. Its presence is felt almost everywhere in the country, whether it’s a local pub or a massive stage. The origins of Scottish traditional music or folk music can be traced back thousands of years. Over the years, the country has undergone some significant changes. Yet, this form of music remains just as relevant as it was centuries ago.
For many individuals, Scottish music means the bagpipes. They can’t think of anything else associated with Scotland’s traditional music other than this instrument. Of course, it’s true that this iconic musical instrument plays a major role in the country’s musical tradition. However, there’s more to Scotland’s traditional music than just the bagpipes.
Before the bagpipes came ‘the lyre’
Very few people know that the earliest mention of the bagpipes in Scotland goes beyond the 15th century. Although the legacy of this musical instrument is impressive, a few other instruments existed long back. No one can deny that the bagpipes are more than 600 years old, but they’re still relatively new.
Evidence of a stringed musical instrument called ‘lyre’ was found on the Isle of Skye. It dates back as far as 2300 BCE. This makes it the oldest surviving stringed instrument not only in Scotland but also in all of Europe. People playing harp-type musical instruments were also depicted in stone carvings from the Pictish period.
The cultural significance of ‘bards’
It won’t be unfair to say that music has always been an integral part of the Scottish culture. Upon going back as far as the medieval period, one would come across the mention of certain individuals called ‘bards’. Throughout the communities of Scotland in those times, these were among the most important individuals.
The bards kept the strong oral tradition alive and acted primarily as storytellers, musicians, or poets of the community. At times, they also played the role of a local historian and even of a lawyer. These multi-talented individuals were often funded by a nobleman or a monarch. Among the major duties of the bards was writing songs in praise of their employer.
Over the centuries, the tradition of bards gradually fell out of favor, but their cultural importance never diminished. In modern times, the term ‘bard’ has taken on a new meaning. This is now used as a term of recognition for renowned poets or authors. One can thus see why Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland, is referred to as ‘The Bard’.
In modern times
Everyone knows Bob Dylan, the legendary American musician and songwriter. He had once stated publicly that his greatest inspiration was none other than Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns. Many of the elements of Scottish music, such as its instruments, accompaniments, and venues have changed with the times. Despite this, the music of Scotland has remained rooted in its tradition.
The Scottish bands of recent times still employ many of the techniques used by their ‘bardic’ ancestors. Some of the innovative musicians even fuse traditional techniques with modern technologies to produce some fabulous sounds. This shows how relevant Scottish traditional music is even in today’s times.