Breathing It In: The Musical Identity of the Scottish Travellers
Tobler, Cheryl Annette
Provine, Robert C.
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This study examines the creation and continuation of identity among Travellers with regard to their vocal music and storytelling traditions. Travellers are historically a nomadic ethnic group found mainly in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, and in smaller numbers in the United States. My study focuses specifically on the Travellers of Scotland, in particular those of Perthshire and Aberdeenshire. Known widely for their musical abilities, the historically peripatetic Travellers often introduced new tunes or new settings wherever they travelled and mingled with settled, or non-Traveller, communities. Within the past forty years the majority of Travellers have become settled, and many have managed to maintain their identity through their expressive culture, specifically music and stories. I examine how for many Travellers a previous peripatetic lifestyle and a current settled lifestyle have both contributed to and affected their musical identity. For this study, I draw on theories of identity and ethnicity, as well as the fields of folklore, ethnomusicology, history, linguistics and cultural studies to assist in the interpretation of music and identity in a cultural context. Fieldwork I conducted in Scotland, Ireland, and the United States informs my research into how Traveller identity and ethnicity is conveyed and sustained through their vocal music. I conducted fieldwork in Ireland in the summer of 2004; in the United States in the summer of 2003 and the fall of 2004; and in Scotland in April 2004, August 2005, from September 2006 to April 2007, and in January 2008. Information during my fieldwork was collected from personal interviews with Irish and Scottish Travellers, with folklorists, and with those who are music promoters. I also conducted extensive archival research at the School for Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh, at the Cecil Sharp House in London, at the gypsy archives of the University of Liverpool, and at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. I analyze the role performance has in portraying Traveller identity, both in public and private spheres. Both music and storytelling, intertwined within the same performative framework for Travellers, are examined together in my research. In examining the complex role of Traveller identity portrayed through performance, I also include transcriptions of selected pieces from Traveller repertoire that contribute to my analysis of how key elements of Traveller society are revealed through their music. Furthermore, I conduct a comparative musical analysis of a song performed by a particularly well-known musical Traveller family, the Robertsons, to examine the continuation of specific Traveller cultural traits through music transmission. Through a close examination of four specific Scottish Travellers (Stanley Robertson, Duncan Williamson, Sheila Stewart, and Jess Smith) I conclude that Traveller identity is strongly tied to an understanding of their ethnicity, and that a musical identity is clearly evident through their expressive culture, specifically ballads and stories.