The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) has a Traditional Music program and Josh Dickson, an Alaskan, heads the department. I had the pleasure of meeting Josh at the Conservatoire and appreciate the time he took to talk with me about the Traditional Music program and how he came to live in Scotland. Josh grew up in Anchorage and learned to play the Scottish pipes in a local pipe band in which his father played. In 1992 Josh traveled to Scotland where he received a MA in Scottish Gaelic at the University of Aberdeen and completed his doctoral studies in the history of the piping tradition of the southern Outer Hebrides at the University of Edinburgh.
The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is the only university in the UK, which offers a Bachelor of Music degree dedicated to traditional and folk music in these principal studies:
Because Scottish music is traditionally taught by ear, students applying for this program do not need to know how to read music to be considered for entry, but once they are a student at RCS they do learn to read music as an equal skill to ear-learning. read music. Over the course of this four-year degree program, students also take courses in music theory, arrangement, composition, research skills and teaching in a range of environments.
Josh likened the approach of the traditional music program to the term, "Dig Where You Stand" which is the idea of understanding self first by unpacking who your are and from where you came before branching out to the wider world. Josh admits that this approach counters those of most university programs, which start broadly and then progress to more focused and specialized coursework, but feels it better aligns and supports students entering this discipline. We talked about the parallels between Gaelic and Native Alaskan music: both taught by ear and considered an integral part of daily life. Josh shared the tradition of the Waulking Song, which are Scottish folks song traditionally sung in Gaelic by women cleaning the cloth to make it fuller (waulking). As a group, the women improvised a song while rhythmically beating the cloth to soften it.
Josh invited me to the Conservatoireʼs Friday afternoon Sang Scuil/Sgoil nan Oran, which is Scots and Gaelic for "Song School." There students sing traditional songs from many cultures. I shared a song in Tlingit to give them an opportunity to hear and sing this beautiful language.
Thank you, Josh, Corrina Hewat, and all of the singers for welcoming me. I look forward to hearing you perform this spring.
This is a personal blog, sharing my experiences living in the UK from January - June 2019 as a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching scholar. This blog is not an official site of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State. The views expressed on this site are entirely my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.