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Comptes rendusReviews

Ian Russell and Anna Kearney Guigné (eds.). Crossing Over: Fiddle and Dance Studies from Around the North Atlantic 3. (Aberdeen: Elphinstone Institute and St. John’s: Memorial University, 2010. Pp. 317, ISBN 9780954568269.)Kenneth E. Nilsen (ed.). Rannsachadh na Gaidhlig 5: Fifth Scottish Gaelic Research Conference. (Sydney: Cape Breton University Press, 2010. Pp. 366, ISBN 9781897009468.)

  • Ian Hayes

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  • Ian Hayes
    Memorial University of Newfoundland

Article body

Crossing Over: Fiddle and Dance Studies from Around the North Atlantic 3 is the third book in a series dedicated to the proceedings of the biennial North Atlantic Fiddle Convention (NAFCo). This particular collection, dedicated to renowned Irish fiddler Séamus Creagh, is based on the 2008 NAFCo meeting in St. John’s, NL. This marked the first time the convention was held in North America. Consisting of twenty-one essays, it is a fair bit longer than the previous collections (which included fifteen and sixteen essays respectively). Its content focuses on a variety of different fiddling styles, such as Cajun, Métis, Cape Breton, Norwegian, and Galician traditions, to name a few. There are some new scholars featured in this volume, but also several academics who have appeared in previous volumes as well, such as Liz Doherty, Evelyn Osborne, and Sherry Johnson. While almost every essay focuses on a different fiddling tradition, the themes and approaches among them tend to be relatively similar, with discussions of globalization, musicological analysis, and historical approaches being among the most common.

One major criticism I have of the collection is that the image quality of the musical excerpts and transcriptions is very inconsistent. Some of these are wonderfully crisp and attractive, while others are so blurry and pixelated that they are difficult to read. This can be problematic, as most of these figures are included to demonstrate detailed musicological analysis.

At times the length of the essays can be disappointing, though this is mostly due to the high quality of their content. Many offer enough detail to pique one’s interest, but clearly could serve as the basis for more substantial, in-depth studies. This, of course, is an unavoidable aspect of the collection, in that the essays represent standard twenty-minute conference presentations. All in all, the collection is in line with the previous books in the series, so in this sense, there are few surprises; however, these NAFCo publications are well worth the read. This collection offers considerable breadth in its essays, and is an excellent resource for individuals interested in music-specific issues such as repertoire, traditional dance, bowing technique, and melodic embellishment. It is equally of use to scholars who investigate broader issues like globalization, historical narratives, and the transmission of musical traditions. As such, it is a worthy addition to any ethnomusicology, folklore, or anthropology library, and a must for anyone interested in traditional fiddling.

Rannsachadh na Gaidhlig 5: Fifth Scottish Gaelic Research Conference is also a collection of conference papers. This conference was held at St. Francis Xavier University in 2008 and, like NAFCo, this was the first time the conference was held in North America. The collection contains twenty-one essays, three of which are plenary-session papers and therefore significantly longer. The bilingual nature of this publication (English and Scottish Gaelic) is immediately evident. While some of the content appears in both languages, five essays are written entirely in Gaelic, making a strong command of Scottish Gaelic an asset, if not a necessity at times. The volume features essays that employ mostly historical and linguistic approaches, addressing a variety of issues. As such, it is a collection where one can find essays on topics ranging from Gaelic poetry to discussions of Gaelic media and its place in revitalization plans.

Not all of the essays are academic in nature. Some are largely descriptive with little critical analysis, though all of the articles have their merits. This lack of formal academic focus is indicative of the varied audience found at the conference. There are, however, several contributions that stand out as exceptionally strong academic work. Most notable are Tiber Falzett’s socio-linguistic analysis of conversational narrative in traditional Gaelic culture, and Michael Newton’s post-colonial discussion of the interactions between First Nations groups and early Gaelic settlers. Both papers offered refreshing perspectives on Gaelic culture with well-balanced, detailed, critical analysis.

Unfortunately, I found the book to be erratically organized; the articles were sorted somewhat unevenly across three areas. First is the understandably small section of plenary session papers which includes three essays. Second, there is the extremely broad area of Gaelic Language, Literature, and Culture, which features fifteen essays, leaving six essays for the Gaelic Media, Revitalization, and Celtic Diaspora section. This unevenness is further emphasized by the lack of a clear theme for the book; it seems that the essays were chosen without enough consideration for how they would complement each other or fit together as a whole.

This collection accurately portrays the range of interests and concerns among the Gaelic research community. I recommend this book as a starting point for anyone new to such issues to begin research; however, it is clear that the highly specific nature of this publication would indicate that its intended audience lies among Celticists, historians, and policy planners interested in Scottish Gaelic and its revitalization. The inclusion of the longer, plenary papers was an excellent decision, offering some variety in length and depth of the articles. The most significant strength of the collection is its detailed research in regard to primary and archival sources, which would be particularly useful to anyone who shares similar research interests to these studies.