|Shetland Music From 1700 to 1920|
The roots of Shetland's much acclaimed traditional music heritage, which largely revolves around the fiddle, can be traced back to around the early 1700's.
The most notable episode from the time was when a German national, Freidamann Stickle, jumped ship in the most northerly island of Unst, legend has it carrying little more than some clothes and a fiddle. Freidamann settled on the island and ultimately married and raised a family, where his son, also called Freidamann, became a much-acclaimed fiddler and composer. The name Stickle is still common in Unst to this day.
It is very likely however that the fiddle, or at least a derivative of it, was in use well before this date, with records existing of a two-stringed horsehair instrument called a 'Gue' having been played in the islands prior to that time.
Whatever the true facts, things must have been starting to 'hot up' around this time, in musical terms at least. By 1794 the Statistical Account for Scotland says that in Shetland "...music and dancing are favourite amusements, especially in the winter months. Many of the common people play with some skill upon the violin".
While, in 1809, Arthur Edmonston observes, "Among the peasantry almost one in ten can play the violin."
The fiddle continued to grow in popularity throughout Shetland, largely because of its ease of transportation (especially on fishing boats and other vessels), and it became an indispensable part of the local social scene, most notably at social gatherings such as weddings. Here, for instance, a fiddler played an important role in the whole proceedings - right through from the pre-wedding events, immediately after the marriage ceremony, where a fiddler led the bridal procession, played for the dancing which followed and finally to the 'bedding' of the bride at the end of the evening, when the fiddler 'accompanied' the bride through to her sleeping quarters. This is the custom from which many of the islands famous 'bedding tunes' originated.
Largely due to its location Shetland has, throughout the years, been the stopping off point for many 'visitors'. After the initial settlement from the Pict's the next group to arrive, and perhaps the most famous, were the Vikings. In more recent times fisherman and merchant seaman from around the globe have been frequent visitors too. In the late 1800's, as to this day, these sea-going 'travellers' would have included many Scandinavian, Dutch, German (the Hanseatic Traders) and Scottish fisherman and sailors.
It is highly likely that many would have brought music with them, where again the fiddle, due to its transportability, would have been commonplace as part of onboard ship life. Inevitably musical exchanges would have taken place with islanders, with these external influences obviously rubbing off on them and remaining after the visitors departed - if indeed they did. Quite a number chose to stay - a trait that still goes on to this day.
In addition many farm labourers and fish processors (mainly female - nicknamed 'gutters' for obvious reasons) came to Shetland for seasonal work, and here again would have brought tunes and influences with them.
Many Shetlanders also elected to join either the Merchant or Royal Navy, especially when times were hard, often travelling the world, and here again they would have been exposed to, and influenced by, music from many different nations and cultures before returning home with these embedded in their minds.
So an almost independent musical heritage, based on our unique location and a commonality of instrumentation and musical influences from our own and other cultures, slowly evolved over a number of years.
|About Our Music|
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