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I have posted this file in response to comments from viewers whose native language is not English and who at times find it hard to follow my voiceover.
This file can also be used by viewers to find their way about the video, for example, if they wish to zoom in on certain points they need to revisit or review for purposes of education or research. Timings are given on average every 2 minutes.
This file can also be used as a basis for producing versions subtitled in other languages, in which case I would reduce picture size to accommodate those titles. If anyone is prepared to produce such subtitles, for example in Spanish, please let me know.
Whatever use this file may be put to, I must, however, underline that:
Please note also that:
[Fair Use Statement]
[Language rhythm intro]
Scotch snaps are very common in most types of English. But why are they identified with Scotland?
The pattern is even more pronounced in Scottish variants of English, as I heard first hand when my nephews in Glasgow greeted me over the phone not just as "Uncle Philip" but as "Uncle Philip".
Robbie Burns poems, which are also in Laland Scots, are veritably riddled with Scotch snaps. Here's perhaps the most famous of those.
[Coming through the Rye]
[Cape Breton Strathspey]
[Farquhar McRae Strathspey]
[Charlie Macleod Gaelic song]
[Tiocfaidh am Samradh]
[Mick Moloney's song text explanation]
An sionnach rua ar an gcarraig, = The red fox and the rock
Míle liú ag marcaigh, = 1,000 dogs are barking
Is bean go dubhach sa mbealach Ag direamh a cuid gé.
= And a woman sadly in the glen counting her few geese
Anois tá 'n choill á gearradh, = But now the woods are being cut
Triallfaimid thar caladh; = We will sail far across the sea
Is a Sheán Uí Dhuibhir an Ghleanna, Tá tú gan ghéim.
= And Sean O'Dwire of the Glen, you're without hope
You only have to think of all those Gaelic place names to get the rhythmic picture:
In Ireland, for example, you've got:
Derry (Doire), Kerry, Dungannon (Dun Geanainn), and all those places starting with Bally (Baíle or Béal Átha), like:
Bally Shannon (Béal Atha Seanaidh), Bally Gowan (Baile Mhic Gabhainn), and the capital of the Irish Republic, which I won't pronounce (Baile Átha Cliath - Dublin)
In Scotland you can go to:
Buckie, Clachan, Rannoch and Turiff; Kirkcaldy and Ben Nevis; Achnashellach and Drumnadrochit;
and you'll find plenty of people up there called MacDonald, MacGregor and Stewart.
In fact let's hear someone called Stewart, Andy Stewart in this case, snap out some Scottish place names in this famous Scottish song.
[The Road To The Isles: 3 versions]
Sure by Tummel and Loch Rannoch and Lochaber I will go
By heather tracks wi' heaven in their wiles.
If it's thinkin' in your inner heart the braggart's in my step
You've never smelled the tangle o' the Isles.]
The only pipe music we've heard so far is a snippet from a Lalands Scots song tune - The Road to the Isles. Now, pipe music is of course primarily instrumental and I've always had the impression that, a bit like the Strathspeys we heard on fiddle, it's full of what I, a non-Scot, find to be unpredictable patterns of straight dottings and snapped notes. I mean, keeping it simple, even if you only consider two consecutive beats leading to a downbeat, you never know which of these four patterns you're going to hear 1,2,3 or 4.
That impression was actually reinforced when my friend Bob Davis lent me his grandfather's book of pipe tunes. I didn't have to look past the first few pages of the book to discover stuff like what you'll hear next. I'm sorry but I couldn't get my hands on any authentic recordings, so I'm afraid you'll have to make do with this synthesised version. Straight dottings are in green on the left and the snaps in red on the right.
Remembering that Gaelic, Gallic, Gaul, Gwalia, Wales and Walloon, not to mention Sankt Gallen and Gallípoli, are all etymologically interrelated and that the Romans used to call Italy north of the Appenines Gallia Cisalpina (i.e. Gaul this side of the Alps) it's tempting to think that the Baroque expression Lombardic rhythm, which denotes almost the same thing as a Scotch snap, is something intrinsic to all Celtic languages.
Even if that were more than mere speculation, it still wouldn't explain why English contains so many Scotch snaps. I mean, apart from fitting, rhythm, pattern, body, Uncle, Philip there's:coming, going, getting and doing as well asdo it, hit it and get it. Then there's many, penny, David, Harry, Wally plus bury, hurry, curry, sorry, never, ever, other, mother, brother, cover, runner, running, missing, heavy, little, middle, bottle, nitty-gritty city, pity, and silly Billy.
None of those words are unusual. So why are they so characteristic of spoken or sung English and how come we use so many of those snaps in everyday speech?
Did spoken English retain elements from Brythonic? That's the Celtic language spoken in what's now England before the Germanic invasions, and the language from which modern Welsh is descended. I mean, although snaps aren't that common in the little I know of Welsh traditional song, they are a feature of everyday spoken Welsh, as in words like:cefn, ceffl, bydda[f], y fory, caru and torri. Perhaps these Brythonic rhythms affected the prosody of Anglo-Saxon and early English, or did it come from somewhere else? The only European language other than Gaelic, Welsh and English that I can think of to contain the snap is Hungarian, as in the word for 'yes', igen, or, as sung here:
[Bartók 3 folk songs #1]
Like Strathspey fiddlers, Bartók often put that rhythm into his instrumental music:
But Britain was never invaded by Hungarians, so the reasons for DA-dum in English will have to remain a mystery for the time being. The main point is that the Scotch snap is as widely used in English as English is used worldwide. It can even function semiotically as a type of anaphone called a "language identifier", even when not a single word is uttered.
[Norman Blake: Randall Collins]
That's much more likely to be music from a Gaelic or English-speaking culture than from somewhere Latin.
To get the hang of this idea, just think of the trisyllabic da-DA-da that is rare in English but so common in, say, Italian or Spanish. I'm thinking of words and phrases like: Milano, Bologna, Maria, signora, ti amo, la notte, la vita (Italian); or (Spanish):España, mañana, Grenada, querida, contigo, cantando, flamenco, fandango, pensando, belleza, llorando, tristeza, mi alma, y siento, la playa, tan solo, en pena, los años, el mundo, no puedo, de todo, te quiero, tus ojos, tu pelo, me matan.
Phwoa! Getting a bit Latin there...
Apply that Latin rhythm pattern to English and you get REE-dhum PAH-terns like I'm COM-ing, I'll DO it that sound as foreign to us as TEE AMOW or TE KIEROW would to speakers of Italian or Spanish. REE-dhum PAH-terns REE-LI MAH-ter, sorry, rhythm patterns really matter to language comprehension. And that's not all because mutual understanding of language is part of our cultural identity; it's intrinsic to our sense of socio-linguistic community.
Remember this? [...McRae] You know, where's the downbeat, where's the metre? There's an obvious tempo. Here are the 16 undifferentiated beats of a period played at 132 bpm. You can hear those 16 undifferentiated beats in at least two different ways. For example, like this [...] or like this [...] Either of those hearings is possible. The trouble is that only one of those is right when the monometric cadence pattern kicks in like this [...] So, which of those two possible versions is right? Is it this one? [...] Or is it this one? [...]
The point is here that straight dottings and Scotch snaps, as in a Strathspey, can work like a metric pun. And that's not only in the way I just demonstrated. For example, take this very simple one-bar snippet from a pentatonic tune [...] If you put the downbeat to that single bar just one quarter of a beat (or one tenth of a second) earlier you'll get something that sounds so different that it has to be notated differently. To make the difference quite clear I've added drum beats to both versions and an extra note in the final version, like this [...]
OK, so metric puns sometimes turn up in some sorts of music from the British Isles. But in the polymetric traditions of West Africa they're at the very basis of rhythmic organisation. You see, I remember back in the eighties having to ask a visiting Ghanaian colleague to give me the underlying rhythm of a song he'd just sung because, as a monometric European, I just couldn't recognise any metre in what he was doing. So he asked me for something metallic to hit on and with, and I obliged by going to the kitchen and giving him something suitable on which he then laid down a repeated pattern that sounded to me something like this...
You may find it easier to memorise this pattern if you use language rhythm, you know, something like "Wallet? Oh, no! I've lost it."[...] If, as monometric Europeans, we hear this pattern as a repeated bar of 6/4 then we'll hear a snapped downbeat on "1" and a straight "dotting" landing us on a downbeat "5". That's not totally unlike the metric pun of Scotch snaps and straight dottings - except for two things that both have to do with polymetricity.
The first thing is that with a West African time line like this you can start playing on any of the rhythmic cycle's twelve subbeats. So far we've only counted to six, but that doesn't do justice to the variety of metre contained in the time line. After all, the time between the two notes of the initial snap DA-da is not one sixth but one twelfth of the time line's total duration.
[12 count] We've been counting to six like this [12 count + time line]. If we start playing on subbeat two of those twelve subbeats, the snap and straight patterns change places [12 count] [12 count + time line staggered to start on subbeat 2]. That means we can now also count to six like this: [...]. That offsetting or staggering of start point in the time line is one part of what makes this sort of music polymetric.
The other polymetric thing is that the time line's twelve subbeats can be configured as: 2 groups of six, 3 groups of four, 6 groups of two, 4 groups of three.
Most of these polymetric particularities should be clear from the montage that follows. You see, if you're as monometric as I am you'll probably find it easier to hear the variety of metres inherent in this simple time line if they're presented just one at a time. So that's what I've done. Also, to make changes of metre clearer I've added basic kick and snare drum to the time line and I've cut the examples to footage of a monometric Malaysian line dance troup so that it's easier to understand how the various rhythm patterns relate to bodily movement. If you try moving around like the people in the visuals you'll get a much more tangible idea of how different all those metric patterns actually feel.
Now, I'm no expert on traditional musics from the British Isles, even less on those of West Africa, but I think we've probably seen and heard enough to realise that the polyvalence of rhythmic and metric organisation in West African traditional music is much more sophisticated than that of mixing Scotch snaps with straight dottings.
That said, it's undeniable that neither I nor any of my students knew where to place the downbeat in the MacRae Strathspey recording before it reached its cadence formula. Nor did we know before that point which motifs were straight (da-ga DA) and which ones snapped (DA-ga DA). My point is that even if Strathspeys are strictly speaking monometric, they still fool around with our monometric sense of down and upbeat.
So what if they do? you may well ask.
Well, the answer's cultural and historical. It has to do with the development of North American popular music styles that became globally important during the twentieth century. Let me explain.
You see, it's generally accepted that the development of popular music in North America draws on three main sources between 1607 and around 1840.
1. The local musics of common people from rural Britain.
2. The local musics of people deported as slaves from West Africa
3. The international and increasingly both urban and urbane music of Central European origin (German, Italian, etc.)
To understand how Scotch snaps fit into all of this, we have to look at these patterns of immigration to North America in a little more detail.
The first of those three sources needs to be thought of as TWO different TYPES of immigration:
1a. skilled and relatively prosperous people to New England; religious dissenters, merchants, craftsmen, etc.
1b. rural poor; mainly young, single men, who landed further south. These guys were often indentured as serfs under appalling conditions similar to those inflicted on African slaves.
The first these 2 groups accounted for 30% of immigration from the British Isles, the second for the remaining 70%. These people  were mainly of English rather than of Scottish or Irish origin. However, after the Union of England with Scotland in 1707 and after the defeat of the Jacobite Rebellion in 1745, more Scots than English emigrate to North America.
Now, in 1800 the US population was 5.3 million, 80% of which was British (mainly English and Scottish), 10% African and 10% other.
That overwhelmingly British immigration continued throughout most of the 19th century, not least during the crisis after the Napoleonic wars when thousands of British soldiers return home wounded or traumatised and without means of supporting themselves or their families.
However, there are some important demographic changes in immigration during the 19th century.
 Due to political turmoil, German immigration increases notably between 1820 and 1850.
 The Great Famine of 1846 leads to a reduction of Ireland's population from eight to two million inhabitants, about half of those starving to death and the other half emigrating, mostly to North America.
Between 1840 and 1890 over 50% of immigrants arrive in the USA from Great Britain or Ireland. It's not until 1890 that a majority of immigrants to the USA arrive from Slavonic or Mediterranean areas of Europe.
The two largest population groups to arrive in North America between 1607 and around 1890 —rural poor from the British Isles and West African slaves — both brought with them music containing rhythmic devices which, from a monometric Central European viewpoint, could be ambiguous about placement of the downbeat.
[German onbeat Christmas Carol]
That's one reason why it's no surprise to learn about the Philadelphia German who, in the nineteenth century, complained that you couldn't tell the difference between what he called a "Scotch" and a "nigger" melody. And Professor Willi Apel's entry for Scotch snap in the 1958 edition of the respected Harvard Dictionary of music seems to agree. The Scotch snap, he writes,
"is the reverse of the ordinary dotted rhythm... It is a typical feature of Scottish folk tunes, of American Negro music and of jazz."
In 1893, when Dvořák's New World Symphony was first performed, a newspaper interview quoted the composer as saying that "the music of Africans in the USA bears a remarkable similarity to the music of Scotland". Most historians agree that Dvořák is referring to anhemitonic pentatonic modes, typical of Scottish and of many West African musical traditions, but judging from the tunes coming up next, it seems that Dvořák had also latched on to the snap when he created what were to become iconic musical representations of the New World in his symphony of the that name (1893). Like this...
[Dvořák montage] [Magnificent 7] [Cade's County] [Blazing Saddles] [Oklahoma]
And the cowboys keep on snapping away, which is odd from Dvořák's viewpoint because, thanks not least to his friend and pupil Harry Burleigh (1861-1949; details on screen African-American singer, arranger and composer), Dvořák was strongly influenced by the music of black Americans, not by that of the poor whites. So how do we explain that the sort of snaps we just heard in the New World Symphony have been so strongly identified with cowboys and Westerns to the extent of becoming stereotypes, even the butt of musical parody?
Well, as you can see here, many of the rural poor from the British Isles, once freed from indenture, first moved west from the plantations nearer the coast to settle in the Appalachian hinterland in the Virginias, Kentucky, Tennessee, as well as to the uplands of Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas. Here they lived in relative isolation until the Civil War (1861-1865) which devastated the south.
There was little or no opportunity for young Confederate soldiers returning to rural homes at the end of the war in 1865. So many of them moved, this time into what had previously been either Mexican or Native American territories on the plains, where there was work in the booming cattle business driving herds between Texas and the railheads in places like Cheyenne, Dodge City and Abilene.
As John Lomax Senior put it:
"most of the young men employed in the cattle drives of the 1870s and 1880s were sons of the rural South. They were from a region in which", in HIS words, the old 'Anglo-Saxon' ballad spirit was particularly strong."
[The next example isn't a ballad and it certainly isn't Anglo-Saxon because the Anglo-Saxons had ceased to exist by 1400 at the very latest.
But it contains plenty of Appalachian elements traceable back to the British Isles. And it's played by someone known as a 'cowboy fiddler'.]
[how come contains Afro rhythms, 'blue notes' and halved periodicity?]
[Carolina Chocolate Drops — ends "Knowledge is not there to be hoarded and kept to itself".]
That is so right. These aspects of popular music history in North America need to be much more widely known.
Look. This old map shows the distribution of the slave population in the US South according to the census of 1860, just before the Civil War. It's also a map of where the plantations at the basis of the Southern economy were located and it covers the area shown here in green. If we could overlay the areas occupied by the poor white population at the same time it would, in grossly simplified form, look something like this.
As you can see, since the arrival in the South of the rural poor from Britain and of slaves deported from West Africa, right up until the second half of the nineteenth century, there are regions containing both those types of immigrant. That means around two hundred years of cultural co-existence and ample opportunity for musical acculturation between the two groups. To put it crudely, no wonder people from outside those two cultures, people like Dvořák for example, found it hard to distinguish "Scotch" from "nigger" melodies. Pentatonics and snaps in one tradition seem to have reinforced snaps and pentatonics in the other.
These traits are hybridised further with elements from the nineteenth century's urban traditions of Central European origin in the songs of Stephen Foster (1826-1864), for example:
[Oh! SuSANNA] [Old Folks At Home: at 'Swanee RIVER'] [Old Black Joe a 'I'm COMIN'']
Foster based a lot of his songs on what he heard through comedian and blackface minstrel artist Dan Rice (1823-1900) and, of course, snaps and pentatonics are common currency in minstrel tunes like Dan Emmett's (1815-1904) Old Dan Tucker.
[Old Dan Tucker]
But this [pic Slave Songs book] is more probably the "snap and pentatonic" tradition Dvořák was drawing on in his New World Symhony. These songs were later known as spirituals and famously arranged by Dvořák's friend Harry Burleigh. Here are just three of the best known pentatonic spirituals containing snaps.
From By & By there's the response line at the end of every period:
["I'm gonna LAY DOWN my HEAVY load].
["I'm gonna LAY DOWN my burden Down by the RIVERside]
[NOBODy knows the TROUBLE I've seen].
But my favourite is probably
[ TREMBLE TREMBLE TREMBLE]
I remember that one from Burleigh's arrangement of Were You There When They Crucified The Lord? And perhaps most significantly there's Let my PEOPLE Go which I won't sing because it's just too emotionally charged for me to do. And there are dozens and dozens of other spirituals containing snaps. Of course this tradition of spirituals is one of the main roots of gospel and soul music.
[Mahalia Jackson: Roll, Jordan Roll (1967)].
Yes, church is a hugely important site of musical acculturation between people of British and African origin in the Southern states throughout the eighteenth century and right up until the end of the Civil War. In fact it's not until 1867 that the black Baptist church is established as an institution [pic. Free Hill Church of Christ, TN, built in 1816]. That's like 150 years of enforced cultural integration at least once every Sunday. During all those years of Sundays, and with very few exceptions, blacks in the south had to attend mainly Presbyterian churches simply because their owners did.
Now, that may seem paradoxical to us today, given the apartheid that replaced open slavery in the South after the Civil War, but the integrated congregations did give bible-bashing slave owners the chance to peddle the word of God in terms like these:
"Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ."
(St Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, 6:5)
I scared myself! So no wonder, hearing that sort of stuff, black membership in Presbyterian churches drops so dramatically during the last few decades of the nineteenth century. That said, 1867 isn't just the year when the black Baptist church is first established as an institution. It's also the year of publication for the Slave Tunes collection that includes most of the material which Harry Burleigh was later to arrange as spirituals. It's also at the basis of what the Fisk Jubilee Singers were to popularise worldwide towards the end of the nineteenth century and beyond, including a personal gig for Queen Victoria in 1873. Anyhow, the 1867 collection is entitled Slave Songs which can only mean that the songs arose during slavery, not after abolition when Christian worship became segregated.
With racial segregation in the South, musical communities were also increasingly identified in racial terms that have remained largely in tact until the present day.
One obvious problem with this musical segregation is that it essentialises musical traits on the basis of whatever happens to be currently perceived as ethnically black or white and that those perceptions change over time. That essentialisation creates contradictions. It's in this way that the banjo, an instrument of clearly African origin, has for sometime now been almost exclusively identified with whites.
It's also why florid melismatic singing, with more likely Scottish than West African origins, has been assumed to be African just because in recent history it's mostly African-Americans who've been heard singing like that, at least since the advent of commercial recording. It's much less well-known that "Snakin' The Voice", as it's sometimes called, has a centuries-old history in the churches of white Appalachia.
These distinctions along racial lines of cultural traits have usually been an absolutely necessary strategy for African-Americans in claiming a collectve identity that had been denied them for so long. But these distinctions, it seems to me, often contradict the evidence of a musical history that is much less racially clear cut and much more hybrid than the twentieth-century segregation of musics and musical audiences has led us to think of as normal. I mean what, according to that sort of musical apartheid, if I'm allowed to use the word, are we supposed to make of string bands in this context?
[Carolina Chocolate drops]
I think we can draw the same conclusion about rhythmic snapping, whether it turns up in string band music, gospel, rock'n'roll, R&B or Country. It's simply a syncretic trait in all sorts of English-language popular music to come out of North America, regardless of skin colour. Six short examples:
[Say It Loud/ Jesus on Mainline/Superstition/ Burning Hell/Greenback Dollar/Good Times Roll]
EEOW is important for two reasons. One is that it's a sort of snap. EEOW EE-OW DAGA. It's a bit like the way Tom Jones just sang HELL [Jones] HEH-OO. EEOW.
The other reason is that the triphthong EEOW is that it's a viowel siound (vowel sound) that reminds me of my childhood growing up in North Northants [Northants short for Northamptonshire] in late 1940s and early 50s. US-Americans might like to know that George Washington's grandfather's birthplace is in the same county as mine. Only difference is that he was born three hundred years before me and grew up in a manor house. I didn't. I was born and bred in a tiny town called Oundle which we called IOUNDLE, with its football team IOUNDLE TIOWN. And if my aural memory serves me right, [CHANGE ACCENT!] when we was kids we used to go rIOUNd talkin' like this:
In that short exchange there are plenty of sounds that clearly diverge from the sort of received pronunciation I'm using right now rather than ROIT NIOW (which is what I would've said at the age of nine). I need to draw your attention to just three distinctive traits in our variant of the East Midlands accent:
1. EEOW as in dIOWN tIOWN
2. AA as in lAAst
3. IN' as in gAUIN (going)
Yes, that last one's definitely a snap.
All three of those sounds are found in most variants of Australian English, and two of them —the IOUW and the IN'—- you'll also find in English from the Appalachians.
There's an aural aesthetic to this way of talking that I think is best characterised in terms of twang (like in TIOWN) and clipping - and I mean the snapped clipping of disyllabics like GOIN'. This snapping may not be as pronounced as in Lalands Scots but it's certainly palpable. I can state this with authority as a primary source because when I was sent to posh school at the age of 9½ my accent was the object of some mirth. In fact I was for some time known as Twangy Taggy. In those posh kids' ears I suppose I must have sounded like a real country bumpkin or oik.
This is where things get interesting because the rural poor of Northamptonshire and its bordering counties were among those hardest hit by the dreadful process of land enclosure that came to a head in the 18th century.
While members of the landed gentry, like Washington's grandfather, emigrated to the northern part of the British colonies in America during the 17th and 18th centuries, a significant number of England's rural poor ended up as indentured labour on plantations in the south. Sticking to the county of Northamptonshire, typical cases would be James Wilson and Richard Pearson who were shipped out as servants bound for an unspecified term to masters in Virginia; and Thomas Rowlett, a 21-year-old animal husbandman from Geddington, near Kettering, who was bound to serve four years under Master John Taylor in Virginia and Maryland.
Things got progressively worse in rural England during the 18th century. The population increased and enclosure laws were enforced with extreme violence. I mean, just listen to what the Duke of Newcastle's steward had to say in 1763:
"I have got a list of about 10 poor wretches, chiefly women and children, that have been pilfering the woods this cold weather and I intend having them all before a magistrate at the first proper opportunity and if I can prevail upon the justices to act as they ought shall get them whipped".
The destitution of rural labourers was further exacerbated by the Draconian poor laws of the early nineteenth century.
Resistance to this appalling class violence was severely punished: hundreds of desperate and destitute poor were hung and thousands convicted of poaching because they had no other way of putting food on the table. After the British defeat in the American War of Independence (1785), the Virginias could no longer be used to the same extent by the English ruling classes as a social garbage dump. Luckily for them there was now somewhere even further away they could discard those they'd forced into desperate acts of poverty. I mean Botany Bay, Van Diemen's Land, and other parts of what was later called Australia was. It must have been brutal.
Here are the names of just a few of the convicts deported from Northamptonshire at that time:
[roll names left]
Restricting my selection of crimes to those committed within 25 km of my birthplace, I discovered that:
- Hector Dallas and William Harvey were convicted of stealing apparel from the house of Charles Gray in Kettering.
- Robert Ginn was convicted of wounding a horse, property of John Baily in Oundle, my home town.
- Thomas Miller was convicted of entering Corby Hill Wood, armed with offensive weapons for poaching game.
- Charles Newey was convicted of stealing fowls, property of Rev. G Bateman of Easton.
- William Percival pleaded guilty to stealing a ewe, property of George Battams of Irchester.
- George Hall was convicted of stealing a shawl handkerchief from the coach house of the Turk's Head Inn in Oundle.
- Robert Tee was convicted of entering Great Spiny Wood, Stanion, for the purpose of poaching game.
[Van Diemen's Land]
[Reason 1 (during fade-out): text on screen]
The second reason was to draw attention the preponderance of poor ENGLISH immigrants to the British colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries before the Scots started to arrive in large numbers and long before the massive arrival of Irish in the wake of the great famine.
The third reason takes us back to the Scotch snap and to its gradual disappearance in music that was latterly labelled "English" rather than Scottish, Irish or otherwise "Celtic". This third point is important because it suggests that the snap, along with all those flat-seven modes (but that's another story), was increasingly heard in influential English circles as something local, archaic and rurally uncouth.
Let's look at some circumstantial evidence.
First of all it seems that what were probably just regional accents in sixteenth-century England —(LOCAL ACCENT) mebbee like what we used to talk like when we was kids (END ACCENT)— gradually came to signal lower class to members of the rising bourgeoisie who, at least in the wake of the English Civil War, no longer needed any alliance with those lower classes to challenge the aristocracy. So they could now use socio-cultural signals demarcating their difference and superiority. This is probably how non-regional upper-class English accents evolved. These were accents that [POSH] almost certainly contained less twang and far fewer of those quaint rustic snaps. [END POSH].
"Rustic" is how one music historian (Leland-Clarke, 1949) describes the effect of the frequent Scotch snaps found in the works of English Baroque composer John Blow (1649-1708), born in Newark on Trent, just 70 km north of my birthplace, but that's beside the point.
As Willi Apel states in The Harvard Dictionary of Music:
"This rhythm" (The Scotch Snap)... figures prominently in English music of the seventeenth century (John Blow, Henry Purcell), in which it is used effectively in order to bring out the short, but accented, first syllables which occur in so many English dissyllabics".
Things change radically for the Scotch snaps of English music in the 18th century. They continued to occur, mainly as exotic indicators of idealised bucolic life, in the Italian operas that were all the rage among the moneyed classes of London in the first two decades of the century but they slowly but surely fall out of favour. The process is easiest to understand if you try and put yourself in the mindset of those upwardly mobile merchant families of 18th-century England. You may own property in deepest Northamptonshire or some other backward county but your cutting-edge business is in London, capital city of the world's biggest sea power. It's "Rule, Britannia" time (Arne) [...] and the British East India company occupies large parts of India.
With your aspirations of power and success, you and your family have hopefully abandoned the twangy snapped speech spoken by impoverished and illiterate labourers on your estate in Northants. Just imagine how much more embarrassing, how much more mud-on-your-boots you'd associate with music made by those poor wretches. Unaccompanied singing by unschooled, twangy voices, fiddlers scraping tunes in outdated modes, vulgar lyrics, clodhopping dances in the farmyard, and so on. No, if you valued your status in society you'd've definitely upgraded your musical habits too.
Upgrade is exactly what they did and suposedly better music was brought it from the continent, music you could even pay to hear at events called concerts and in places called opera houses. You could also do social networking of an evening in Vauxhall Gardens where music suited to your status would be played in the background.
At first Italian opera was all the rage in London. One of its main proponents was Georg Friedrich Handel (1685-1759) who was imported along with King George from the Central European state of Hanover (Hanover dynasty 1714-1901) and Johann-Christian Bach (1735-1782, JS's youngest) lived and worked in London from 1762 until his death. Haydn was another visitor to the capital. Between 1791 and 1795 he composed his twelve famous London symphonies.
Although Handel's influence on music in England cannot be underestimated, these famous German names were just the tip of the iceberg. More important in bringing England's musical image in line with that of the cosmopolitan European musical idiom of the day was almost certainly the phenomenal popularity of The Beggar's Opera which first opened in 1728, running first for 62 consecutive nights and then being reperformed almost constantly throughout the eighteenth century. Its 69 popular songs included everything from well-known arias by Handel to hymns and broadside ballads.
Originally the songs were to have been sung unaccompanied, as they almost always were by the man on the street, but the theatre director insisted on instrumental accompaniment and brought in German composer Johann Christoph Pepusch (1667-1752) to do the arrangements. The vast majority of tunes in The Beggar's Opera are in the ionian mode and Scotch snaps are pretty rare. Even Bonnie Dundee, which I recall containing the following line [... has had all its dottings smoothed out.
When the snap does turn up in music written from the perspective of the 18th-C London bourgeoisie it's inserted as a gimmick signifying either the rustic, bucolic and naive "other", as in works by Handel; or, the hearty, boisterous and unschooled "other", as here in the Royal Navy's own song Heart of Oak.
[Heart of Oak]
With that sort of tub-thumping gung-ho arrogance it's no wonder the inhabitants of North America, most of them English incidentally, decided to kick out the British imperialists and declare their independence in 1785.
And that's where North American notions of England, including its music, stayed cryogenially frozen for the best part of two centuries. For example, in Rapée's Motion Picture Moods for Pianists and Organists from 1924, England is represented in the "National" section by three pieces.
[God Save The King] [Rule Britannia] [Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes]
Not even Greensleeves is there as some idealised archetype of English pastorality, let alone more down-to-earth tunes like John Barleycorn, The Female Drummer or What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor. Everything is ionian, there's not a flat seven within earshot, nothing pentatonic, no Scotch snaps, nor anything else that was at one time or the other heard as typically English.
It's as if James Wilson, Richard Pearson, Thomas Rowlett and thousands of other English farm labourers had never been bound as indentured servants to masters in the southern colonies of North America between 1607 and 1746 when the Scots started to arrive in large numbers. Those ordinary English folk seem to me to have been weirdly censored out of history. Let me explain.
Here's a West German map of central Berlin where East Berlin is blank; and here's the better known version of that, a map of East Berlin where West Berlin is blank. The unspeakable place on the other side just isn't shown. On this map [Celtic League] the unspeakable place doesn't even have a name, not even Y Lloegr (medieval Welsh word for what we call England).
I find this confusing personally. Although the Taggs are basically of Germanic origin, my father's mother was part Scottish, my mother's father was an Elliott who came from the Cumbrian border country, while my mother's mother was a Welsh speaker from Brynmawr. So I'm half Low-German English, a quarter Scottish and a quarter Welsh, a right old mongrel living in the unspeakable blank space. And that's without mentioning all the Scots I used to know when I worked at Stewarts and Lloyds in Corby, Northamptonshire, and all the 150,000 native Welsh speakers living also in the unspeakable blank space. However Celtic or non-Celtic we might be in the eyes of the Celtic League, we just don't exist on this map.
So what on earth does "Celtic" actually mean?
There's The Celtic Bank, The Celtic Sheet Metal Company, Celtic Casino, The Celtic Executive Golf Gift Set, Celtic Building Supplies, The Celtic Look, Celtic Vibes, Celtic Pride Beef, The Celtic Crusaders Cleaning Company, Celtic Executive Travel, Celtic Tatoos, The Barbados Celtic Festival, Celtic Marketing, Celtic Massage, Celtic Construction, The Celtic God of the Day, The Celtic Myth Podshow, Celtic Videogames, Things Celtic, Celtic Equestrian, Celtic Windscreens, Celtic Care, Celtic Marketing Food Brokers, Celtic Construction, Celtic Security — and, of course, Celtic Woman
Well, that wasn't much help. So let's try with the notion of Celtic Music.
Here's the Celtic Music Fan website. I'll zoom in on the text at the top of the banner. You can see that the folks on this site think you'll be interested, as a Celtic Music Fan, of music from: Ireland (OK), Scotland (yeah), Bretagne (yes), Wales & Cornwall (linguisically, yes but musically, hm?), The Isle of Man (I don't know enough but I thought it was primarily a haven for corporate tax dodgers who aren't famous for being folky), Galícia (yes again), Asturias (yes, but I don't know enough), Cape Breton (yes) and EARLY AMERICA.
Early America, eh? I don't think they mean so much the music of Native Americans who are certainly early in America but not very Celtic, so they can only mean the music of early immigrants to North America from the British Isles, the majority of which were, as we've seen, ENGLISH, until the mid eighteenth century, thereafter Scottish and English. So, according to the logic of this website, English music is actually Celtic.
That's confusing again, given that England doesn't exist on the imaginary map of Celticness according to the Celtic League. So, The Celtic Music Fan website's personnel must think that the music of early immigrants to North America, the English, sounds Celtic enough to their ears to be included with Scotland, Ireland, Galiícia and so on. Or they must have registered, as indeed I have too, that fans of Irish an d Scottish music tend also to be fans of Old Appalachian-style music, including the "Old Anglo-Saxon ballads", as John Lomax put it.
This may all seem quite speculative but it's not totally unreasonable because pentatonic modes, modes with flat sevens, and Scotch snaps are traits found much more commonly in traditional musics of the British Isles, including England, than in those of Central Europe. The only explanation as to why the MUSIC OF EARLY AMERICA can be lumped together with traditional music from, say, Ireland or Scotland is that the music brought to America by the English rural proletariat more closely resembled the music we today associate with the Celtic fringe of Europe than it did the music of eighteenth-century London, its merchants and imperial forces.
You need to remember here that people like James Wilson, Richard Pearson and Thomas Rowlett landed in America around 1700 without having heard:
- Music by Handel (British Empire's official composer)
- Brass bands, symphony orchestras and other types of official music
- Accordeon, piano and other equal-toned instruments
- Recorded or broadcast music
but they had heard:
- Rural popular songs and dance music
- Simply harmonised hymns (maybe from The Scots’ Psalter, 1564 but not even Wesley’s Psalms & Hymns, 1737)
- Fife and drum bands (military recruitment, etc.)
Compared to the music latterly identified as English in North America, the music of those English labourers probably sounded archaic and backward, containing unharmonious, uncouth twangs and, yes, those rustic snaps.
The difference is in other words between English music and English music. And that can only mean it wasn't so much a matter of ethnicity as of CLASS.
Of course, if you don't like that C-word and if you insist on fitting everything into ethnic catgories, you could always try to argue that the music of rural England around 1700 was Celtic. But then you'd have to indulge in the sort of speculation I made earlier about the influence of Brythonic on the prosody of Germanic languages spoken by those entering Britain between 400 and 900 A.D. Trouble is there was no sound recording back then.
So you might then want to argue, as several scholars have recently, that people of Celtic origin during that period may have actually outnumbered the Germanic settlers. You could always point to the large number of English place names starting with Wal- or Wel-, as in one of the 25 Waltons listed in my road atlas of the UK, where Walton means homestead of the Wealas, which is Anglo-Saxon for "foreign" and which denoted the Welsh, the Wallies, the Walloons, those in Wallia or Gwalia, you know, the Gauls and other Germanic names for the indigenous Celts in Britain during that period.
You could also go on to ask why the syntax of English and Celtic languages share common traits that don't show up in other European languages, you know, things like the continuous aspect of verbs, for example I'm thinking, rather than I think, where I'm thinking is exactly the same construction as Dwi'n meddwl (=I'm thinking or I think) in Welsh.
Another common trait is the complex question tagging that occurs in English as well as in Celtic languages, you know, how we say isn't it?, couldn't we?, won't they?, didn't she? and so on instead of just a single phrase covering them all, like nicht wahr? (German), n'est-ce pas? (French), eller hur? (Swedish) or innit (variants of Estuarian English). You could then argue that if Celtic influence, not on the vocabulary but on the deep structures of spoken English is so strong, then the prosody of English, including Scotch snaps, may well be Celtic too.
Trouble is that no-one can conclusively assess what influence indigenous Brythonic culture had on the development of language and music in Britain between 400 and 900. So this sort of reasoning is really very tenuous and, even if it were all true, it doesn't explain why there was such a clear difference around 1700 between "English music" and "English music". The real problem, I think, lies in a fixation on ethnic categories. I'm talking about the same sort of supposedly fixed notions of "black" and "white" that still exist today, and which musicians like The Carolina Chocolate Drops clearly criticise in both word and musical deed.
[requote Rhianna Giddens and Carolina Chocolate Drops]
My own conclusion is similar. The musical differences we've been talking about are less a question of ethnicity and more of a class issue. Whoops! The dreaded c-word again. Maybe you're one of those who believe the rich and powerful who tell us that class no longer exists. If that were true, how come WE have to make sacrifices to pay for the current economic mess which was MADE by the rich and powerful ...
[TV: "RBS, which is 84% owned by the tax payer, is set to pay its investment bankers as much as £1½ billion in bonuses"...]
... while so many others can't afford to go to university, or cover their rent...
[TV: "Up to 3,500 Londoners will spend their night on the streets"...]
...or even the price of food.
[TV: "This is a basic human need. This is food."]
It's like we've gone back to 1700. Or perhaps we need to go as far back as to the class differences between barons and serfs in medieval England to find such a tiny powerful elite living so obviously on such a different planet to most of us. You definitely need the C-word to get a handle on these realities.
If researching for this video about something as microsmic as the Scotch snap has taught me anything, it's that we have to be very wary of categories like black, white, English and Celtic and that it would be wise to consider the currently unfashionable but essential category of CLASS if we really want to understand anything about our culture and identity. All those categories of ethnicity and class are constantly changing and I think we have to look out and listen very carefully before putting different peoples and their cultures into pigeonholes that may once have had their use but which no longer make much sense. Thank you.