Tuesday, February 12, 2019


The Donald MacDonald 1828 Collection

I've started playing again through the Donald MacDonald 1828 collection. It's the earliest significant collection of light music I've heard of, and other than his earlier collection (which is mostly ceòl mòr), the first fully ornamented.

And boy, howdy, some of the ornaments different. Most are the same as are played now, but there are ones that have dropped out of use since then. Here are some things I'm finding in just the first three tunes:

Many of the patterns we know are present, like the g-d-e-d grace note rule. But when the figure involves the low-hand only, such as in the "A Highland Reel" bar 4 and "Sweet Molly" bars 3 & 7, the d-grace note might be used to start a bar, in the way the g-grace note is used for both high- and low-hand transitions today; and it sets up a d-e sequence. When this pattern is interrupted, as in coming from high g in the last bar of "A Highland Reel" (which prevents the d-grace from being executed), I have a hard time not playing it instead of the e-grace that's supposed to be there.

Also, crossing noises are used as ornaments! In Highland music! Specifically, a transition from d to e in "Sweet Molly" bar 11 and between c and e "Sleepy Maggie" bars 2, 4, 6, and 8. There's a low A grace note between them, and the only way to execute that is to forcibly allow a crossing noise when changing from the low to the high hand note.

I'm seeing Leumluaths and grips used in place of melody notes; the first A in "Sweet Molly", for example, but also in bar 11, there's a sequence of f melody, low g grace, d melody, low A grace, e melody. The only reasonable way to interpret this is a melodic sequence of f-leumluath-e-f, with the leumluath taking a full eighth note's worth of time. I think that's why what normally would be the grace note in the middle of the leumluath, the d, is here notated as a melody note: musical accounting. That time has to be written somewhere.

Also, interestingly, light half-shakes on d (ie, using a c echo beat) are common, even from notes other than high a or high g. Sleepy Maggie's B-part is full of them.

There's a lot to unpack in this collection, and I'm going to have fun doing it.

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