If you've already visited the Kist o Riches website, then you'll have an idea of just how vast our archive is, with thousands of recordings from all over Scotland, some from as early as the 1930s. As such, it represents a hugely important resource for people who are keen to reconnect with their local heritage, and in particular for children, some who will never have been introduced the traditional lore of their native area.
| Stuzzi 671B Reel to Reel Tape Recorder (1957) as |
used by Calum MacLean and Hamish Henderson
By now, the kids were getting a sense of what kind of material the Kist contained, so we started our exploration of local songs by listening to a track recorded in 1952 in a Dundee school, from children much like themselves:
"A bumbee [bumble bee] stung me, I canna tell a lee,
A bumbee stung me, I canna tell a lee
O the bumbee stung me, I canna tell a lee,
For meh wee lassie's haen [had] twa-three [two or three]."The kids guessed correctly that the item was a skipping song, but rather than learn it for skipping, we developed a two-person clapping game to perform while singing it, and the kids were then challenged to come up with their own special actions to go with it. At this point, something quite incredible happened: in the last school I visited, after playing the track to the class, one girl put her hand in the air and told me that one of the voices on the recording was her grandmother. After a bit of investigating, it turned out that her grandmother had indeed sung A Bumbee Stung Me for William Montgomerie, who had come to record her and her classmates at a local school in 1952. So here we were, full circle, listening to a pupil's granny recorded sixty years before. This was a great example of the way that the Kist o Riches can link us back to our past.
|One of the primary messages of the workshops was the importance of the family role in passing on traditions. We'd already looked at the traditions the kids had found in their own families, and so to bring something personal to the table, I showed the kids a video I had made of my own grandmother, Grannie Ruby, singing two street songs she had learned as a child in the Hilltown in the 1930s. These proved immensely popular with the kids, and we sang them many times over the weeks that we worked together. You might recognise the songs, as there are localised versions all over Scotland, usually modified to refer to the singer's native area. Here's the video of my grannie Ruby (right) singing her two songs Wha Saa the 42nd? and Kiltie Jeemie : |
| Wha Saa the 42nd? |
Wha Saa the 42nd?
Wha Saa them gaen awa?
Wha Saa the 42nd,
Comin through the Cannle Raa?
Some o them had baits an stockins,
Some o them had nane ava,
Some o them had baits an stockins,
Comin through the Cannle Raa.
| Kiltie Jeemie|
Eh'm gaen awa on the train
An you're no comin wi me
I hae a lad o ma ain
An they cry him Kiltie Jeemie
He wears the tartan kilt
An he wears it in the fashion
An every time he birls aroon
Ye canna help fir laughin!
|old Dundee to see what life was like for the mill workers, and a clip from the jute museum itself.|
|Here, the Kist o Riches had something special to offer, through recordings of Mary Brooksbank (1897-1978) talking about her own experiences of working in the jute mills and singing her famous Jute Mill Song, also known as Oh Dear Me.|
Click here to listen to Mary sing her song.
"Oh, dear me, the mill's gaen fest,
The puir wee shifters canna get a rest,
Shiftin bobbins coorse an fine,
They fairly mak ye work fir yer ten and nine"
We also heard Mary describe how her mother had tried to put her into 'service' - meaning she had been sent to work as a maidservant - at a large house, and that this is where she first saw how "ill-divided" the world was between rich and poor.
We decided to stay with Mary Brooksbank and learn her lovely song Love and Freedom (aka Hey Donal) which quickly became the kids' favourite. I mentioned that Mary had been born blind and only regained her sight at the age of three - ever after, her sight was her most precious gift she possessed, and Love and Freedom reflects the pleasure she took in viewing Scotland's landscape. The song had special meaning for one school as it is set in Strathmartine, which is a stone's throw from their grounds - so it's now become their 'local song'.
With all of this under our belt, we decided to finish off the workshops in the final week by performing the songs in front of the whole school, and by giving them all a glimpse into our work on traditions. As a special surprise for the last, and biggest class, I arranged for my Grannie Ruby to come to the school and meet the kids. They could scarcely believe their eyes when she walked into the hall, unaided, at the ripe old age of 85. She even brought her old moothie (harmonica) along with her and played us all two of her favourite tunes: My Love is Like a Red Red Rose, and Rowan Tree. Ruby then had the great pleasure of hearing her two songs performed by sixty children, almost eighty years after she learned them in the streets of the Hilltown.
So after a month of workshops, around 150 primary school children had learned five local Dundee songs and had explored their own family traditions, as well as the life experiences of people who had lived and worked in the city all their days. What's more, in performing the songs for the rest of the school, we were able to teach the choruses and even some of the shorter songs in their entirety to as many as 1500 children. Many of the teachers in the schools have asked the workshop classes to teach their own classes the songs we learned, and are planning to use the Kist o Riches website in their own class projects. Most tellingly for me, the kids themselves have begun teaching the songs to their own brothers, sisters, mums and dads - and even their grandparents!
For me, the workshops were a powerful confirmation of a fundamental truth: that Scotland's children want to learn about their local traditions, and indeed, are keen to be tradition bearers themselves. All they need is the encouragement to explore their local heritage - and the Kist o Riches could hardly be a better place to start.
Image and Photo Credits:
Images of Mary Brooksbank, school children performing on stage and in group photo are reproduced here courtesy of D. C. Thomson Ltd. All other images are copyright of Chris Wright and are used with permission of the participating schools.