Last Saturday, our wheels cut through the early morning mists on a journey North through just-coloring leaves towards our summer haunts in Lincoln New Hampshire for the New Hampshire Scottish Highland Games. As we sped away, I turned on a playlist of ALL THINGS SCOTTISH, landing as I always do on “All the Best from Scotland v2“. (No, I do not have and have never heard volume 1.)
This album has been, uh, enjoyed by my family often, and Adam and I certainly know all the words. And as we passed red-limned swamps and yet-green-groves, Melville Castle came on. Since there’s an off chance that you are unfamiliar with this apex of Scottish accomplishment, here’s a version for you to listen to:
Anyway, as the song went on, a small – anonymous – voice from the back seat joined in the chorus. When the song ended, he asked for it again. And again. When the album was allowed to continue, a wistful voice said that it couldn’t wait until it could hear it again – a wish soon to be granted.
We arrived at the games – a chaotic and crowded enterprise with pipe bands to the right of you, Red Hot Chili Pipers to the left of you and Haggis straight ahead. (Yes, I did have haggis for lunch.)
I explained my Scottish heritage to my sons. I told them the rated-G version of what it meant to be a Johnstone of Clan Johnstone. (“Now what’s your clan crest again?!”) Then I took them to the Clan Johnstone tent where their great-uncle was presiding as Clan President (US) over the annual Clan Gathering. Accidentally showing up just during the clan meeting, my eldest son (the one with the Johnstone in his name) proposed that there should be awards such as best video game player (he would win) and best pie maker (an apparent shoe-in for his mother).
We wandered the booths, bought shortbread, watched the world championship caber toss, and saw more people in tartans than I thought possible. (I mean, I don’t have a tartan skirt and I really want one and am a Johnstone of Clan Johnstone! How do so many people gear themselves up so well and so expensively?!) My sons did this super cool bungy jump flip thingy. And a few hours later, we left the buzz of the bagpipes behind and returned home.
My son demanded “Melville Castle” on his DS. While I was at it, could I please add the depression era anthem “Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound”:
These two songs have been ringing through my house ever since. Two young voices in my backseat, this morning, were arguing through the lyrics of Melville Castle (is it ‘what will all the lassies dae‘ or ‘what will all the lassies say’? and singing together.
So music, this folk music – the kind sung by people you know who are like you – has been much on my mind lately. On Wednesday, word came through my Facebook feed (is it heretical of me to admit that I really love Facebook, and how it has helped me preserve relationships that otherwise would have long since withered?) that one of my old Tacoma Youth Symphony alumn friends was in the region, and playing house concerts.
Ryan McKasson was a violist when we played through Sibelius and Rimsky-Korsakov together in the first flowering of youth. We probably played together for four or five years. So when my Friday was inexplicably free, and my babysitter (God bless having a babysitter!) was available, and … I found myself in a house in Lexington with the lights on, original art on the walls, an expensive grand piano and cheap folding chairs. Ryan recognized me, remembering my instrument if nothing else. We chatted briefly, and then the sparks flew.
Is there a better way to listen to music than in a small group of music lovers, in the aging house of retiring patrons of the arts? I watched the shy boy I once kind of knew strike like flint against the steel of his pianist friend, challenging with fiery eyes to go one farther and one better. Physics cannot explain how fast those 20 fingers flew across string and ivory. I was rapt, and entranced. (As an aside, Ryan is one of the best all-over performers I’ve seen. If you ever have a chance to watch him play, do so. And try to figure out a way to stay late for the after-concert-session that is apparently an inevitability.)
There were a few moments, in this modern-day-salon, where I thought about the choices of my life. I come from a corporate job, a skilled craftsman in the new economy. I sit in a cube from 9 am to 5 pm writing emails and connecting threads of different thoughts to weave into a complete cloth of strategic understanding. But perhaps I could have been a musician, an artist. Perhaps I could have chosen to write books or perform trumpet, or teach. I did not. Even in the rosin-dusted air, although I am wistful for my choices, I do not regret them. While there is no art without the artist, there must also be an audience or there will be neither art nor artist. The Tacoma Youth Symphony made my high school years joyous, but it also taught me to be the audience and patron. I gladly and cheerfully accept my role, and would love to practice it even more actively!
You can see pictures from the Highland Games, plus a few more fall pictures here.