Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Deep Geographic Memory, Bagpipes, and Electronic Music

MacDuffee Clan Society Tartan (modern)
This past weekend I attended the graveside service of a dear cousin of mine. Just before the service began, a bagpiper approached playing a solemn tune. When the service was finished, he departed the same way he had come, slowly crossing a rise in the cemetery, signifying the departure of my cousin from this earthly life. We were moved by the occasion, and we were moved by the music.

I was reminded of heritage, and music. I was reminded of writing, and our sense of place on this planet.

Geographic Memory

Cherokee linguist Tom Belt is a descendant of the Native Americans who left their homelands in the Southeast U.S., forced to follow the "Trail of Tears" and relocate in Oklahoma in the 1830s. Robert Moor, in his book On Trails: An Exploration, explains that as a child in Oklahoma, Tom Belt would fantasize, while playing war games on the prairie, "that he was in a land of mountain slopes, soaring trees, and murmuring brooks." It wasn't until Belt moved to North Carolina at the age of forty that he realized this was the landscape he had been imagining. It's like a "sense of deep geographic memory," writes Moor. And while it "may seem mystical ... it isn't--or at least, isn't entirely--because the landscape is 'encoded' directly into the [Cherokee] language."

Scots-Irish Heritage

I believe this would resonate with Sharyn McCrumb, award-winning author of a number of historic novels set in the Appalachian mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. I was fortunate to hear Sharyn speak at the first Lost State Writers Conference in the foothills of the Appalachians in 1998. Many of us in the audience were descendants of the Scots-Irish who came to America in the 18th and 19th centuries, and we have roots in the Appalachians. Sharyn said that our Scots-Irish heritage has followed us in our music, our writing, and especially our choice of where to live, for the Appalachians closely resemble the Scottish Highlands. While my McDuffee ancestors were not Highlanders (they came from the island of Colonsay in the Inner Hebrides off the coast of Scotland), surely some of my ancestors were Highlanders.

Bagpipes, Drones, and Electric Guitar

Scots-Irish heritage following us in our music?! And not just music played on a hammered dulcimer. Take the bagpipes, for instance. The Great Highland bagpipe. When I was somewhat taller and older than a wee lad, I really wanted an electric guitar effect (similar to a "fuzz box" or a "wah-wah pedal") that would allow me to create a drone on the electric guitar. As far as I know, it wasn't until advances in digital signal processing made it possible that one could purchase and use a drone effect. (Or, use what is called a "pad" on a synthesizer.) And I wonder, did my desire to create a drone on a guitar arise from what Robert Moor referred to as a "sense of deep geographic memory"?

The Drive Home

Not long after my cousin's graveside service, near Chattanooga, Tennessee, I got back in my car and headed home to Ohio. There is something I've not yet put my finger on that causes me to feel like "I'm in the right place" when I'm in Tennessee. It could be topography, natural history, or the fact I was born there. Though I never really lived much in Tennessee, I consider it home. This is something I will have to explore.

1 comment:

  1. Ach! or is it "Och"! April 6 was "Tartan Day" and I didn't know it!
    Soon I will have to post about the "Appalachian rock" band known as Tuatha Dea and their connection to Alex Bledsoe and his "Tufa" novels.

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