Renovations of Whittaker Library at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2000 involved dismantling a “robust but not particularly beautiful cupboard” and storing its contents—mostly old sheet music—for later inspection.
Entirely by chance, the librarian and scholar Karen McAulay discovered therein three manuscript collections of traditional Scottish flute tunes notated by one James Simpson. Her subsequent research enabled her to establish some details of Simpson’s identity, including his residences, occupation, and birth and death dates (1806–73).
This according to McAulay’s “From Dalfield Walk, Dundee, to Renfrew Street, Glasgow: The James Simpson manuscripts” (Brio XL/1 [spring-summer 2003] pp. 27–37). Above, Simpson’s notation of the Strathspey Maggie Lauder with variations.
The manuscript Original Highland airs collected at Raasay in 1812 by Elizabeth Jane Ross, which is preserved in the archives of the School of Celtic and Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh, is now available for downloading at no cost, both in facsimile and in an extensively annotated typeset edition prepared by Peter Cooke, Morag MacLeod, and Colm Ó Baoill.
The earliest known staff-notated manuscript collection of Scottish Gaelic music, it contains 92 songs, 51 dance tunes, and 6 pibrochs; it probably represents well the musical repertory of Raasay, one of the islands of the Inner Hebrides. A major task for the editors involved locating, documenting, translating, and underlaying song texts which might have been known to Ross; she provided titles or first lines of verses or refrains for her airs, but not the texts themselves.
The Raasay residents James Macleod and his wife Flora were excellent musicians, and their niece Elizabeth Ross, who lived with them, was clearly a competent transcriber. Raasay was also the home of the great piper John MacKay, from whom Ross learned to play several pibrochs.