Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)



Department name when degree awarded


Committee Chair(s)

Jeannie B. Thomas


Jeannie B. Thomas


Lisa Gabbert


Patricia Gantt


Cape Breton, Nova Scotia has been a stronghold of active and integrated community traditions of Scotch-Gaelic music and dance since it was settled by large numbers of Scottish emigrants in the nineteenth century. Though these emigrants brought with them an extensive store of tunes common to the Highlands of Scotland, the majority of them were carried in the collective oral memory. Consequently, the traditional Scottish repertoire of Cape Breton fiddlers steadily declined as generations of fiddlers who never learned to read or write music died. In the nearly two centuries that Scots have populated the island, there have been many gifted Cape Breton tune composers. Of these, certainly the most prolific is `old style' fiddler John MacDougall. To date his output numbers over forty thousand tunes. It is not just the staggering quantity of tunes however, that makes MacDougall's composing noteworthy, but his extraordinary claim that he does not write them himself. MacDougall insists that he simply records the tunes whole as they are given to him from the spirits of Cape Bretoners who have long since passed away. This paper examines the connection between MacDougall's tune `making' and the supernatural as an extension and a Christianized revision of a traditional Scottish motif that connects music making with fairylore. It suggests that MacDougall's modernized version of this motif serves to legitimize his large body of tunes to a community of fiddlers that, following in the footsteps of their forbearers, place enormous value on tune authenticity and correctness.