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Scotland in music

Review by Edward Scott Pearlman

As we boarded the Northlink ferry, it was fun to see the gigantic Viking painted on the side of the boat, pointing the way to the Shetland Islands. For six centuries, until 1472, Shetland belonged to the Vikings, and for the past six centuries has been a part of Scotland. Not surprisingly, its music, dialect and traditions reflect a mix of local, Scottish and Scandinavian influences.

On the ferry, an old Shetland tune, "Da Ferry Reel," came to mind. "Da" ("the") is just one of many unique Shetland words and pronunciations that are vestiges of Norn, a Germanic language related to Norse and Danish, which was gradually replaced by Scots, and died out (some Shetlanders say it was banned) in the 19th century.

"Da Ferry Reel" may refer to a ferryboat, but it is also said to honor the "fairy," one of the "little people" who made up or inspired the melody. Known in Shetland as trows or trowies, these fairies figure prominently in Shetland folklore. A word of warning to fiddlers: Beware of trowies who invite you into their knoll for a party. Legend has it that after playing music all night, you may discover in the morning that you've been away from home, not for a night, but for a century!

When we arrived in Lerwick, the capital of Shetland, we found our B&B located nearly opposite the park where a replica Viking longship is burned during the winter Up Helly Aa festival. This is but one of a number of local annual festivals, including the Shetland Wool Week in the fall, the spring Shetland Folk Festival and the early-August event we were looking forward to, Shetland Fiddle Frenzy.

Now heading into its 15th year, Fiddle Frenzy is an aptly named weeklong immersion in Shetland fiddle tradition, with daily classes for fiddlers and guitarists and related events such as a tour of places linked to particular tunes. There is also a "Creative Fringe" program that focuses on Shetland's handwork tradition with workshops in silversmithing, drawing and painting. Nightly concerts feature top bands and artists with Shetland connections, as well as showcase local musicians, including excellent kids' groups.

The full text of this column is available in the Winter 2017 issue of Scottish Life.

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