Aberdeen Strathspey and Reel Society
Oral History Project
The Aberdeen Strathspey & Reel Society was established in 1928 to form and maintain orchestras for promoting the practice and performance of Scottish music, with aims to encourage and advance interest in Scottish music and preserve the playing of it.
When the society was established in 1928, it joined a network of similarly named music-organisations across Scotland. The earliest such group, the Dundee Scottish Musical Society, started in 1869, only a few short decades after Scottish music was first performed in a concert setting. Previously, reels, jigs, and strathspeys were only performed domestically, or as an accompaniment to dancing, but, with the rise of music halls and Scottish violin competitions in the 1850s, audiences grew accustomed to hearing dance tunes on the stage.
The change in performance context from dance-accompaniment to music-hall entertainment was complemented by a rapid growth in the number of amateur musicians in Scotland at this time. This was due in large part to the liberalisation of trade in musical instruments, which meant a great many more affordable violins became available from Europe at a time when many workers had more leisure time to learn an instrument. All this happened at a time of renewed interest in national culture in Scotland, and meant the conditions were right to form amateur music groups dedicated to the performance of Scottish music.
The earliest Scottish music-organisation that remains active today is the Edinburgh Highland Reel & Strathspey Society, which was established in 1881. It was closely followed by the Glasgow Caledonian Strathspey & Reel Society in 1888. A few years later, in 1903, the Highland Strathspey & Reel Society was established in Inverness, as was the short-lived Aberdeen Strathspey & Reel Association. From then until the out-break of war in 1914, many such groups were started, but few continued after the war.
The Aberdeen society was the first in a spate of societies to be established in the late 1920s and early 1930s, including groups at Banchory, Stirling, and Fetterangus. It was a time of rising cultural nationalism, with organisations such as the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Country Dance Society forming around the same time. The ongoing Celtic Revival was also influential. In addition, the death of Scottish-Violinist, James Scott Skinner, in 1927 – which prompted a period of national mourning, especially in Aberdeen – renewed the long-held perception of many that Scottish fiddle music was in need of preservation. The new Aberdeen society clearly captured the zeitgeist, as indicated by the distinguished list of patrons it attracted, including Dukes, Lords, Viscountesses, Sirs, and senior decorated military figures.