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Sunday, 22 October 2017

Flower of Scotland–singing it, keys, pitch and bagpipes

This is the text of a letter I sent to the HERALD in reply to two letter sent by Ian Macdonald. At the point of emailing it, I felt it was probably too technical for the HERALD. Seems I was right …

LETTER to HERALD
To try to help Ian Macdonald with his problems on keys, notes and ranges, let me offer the following clarifications. 
 
The range of the melody of Flower of Scotland is from the low 5th to the high 5th of whatever key it is being played in, e.g. in the key Ian eventually cited, D, from A below the keynote to A above it. In tonic sol fa, from low soh to high soh. This narrow compass is well within the range of even the most limited singer - one reason for the popularity of the song. It sticks to the diatonic scale throughout except for the flattened 7th - the 'think' in "to think again". 
 
In Ian's example of the key of D, the highest note and lowest notes sung would be the 5th of the scale i.e. A.  Since the only accidental in the melody in key of D is the flattened 7th, namely C, the "high Fs" Ian quotes do not occur anywhere in the key of D. 
 
As well as having problems over keys, Ian seems to be oblivious to absolute pitch. Singers can sing the same melody in the same key an octave apart, as frequently happens with male and female singers, e.g. concert A can be sung at 440 cps, an octave higher at 880cps or an octave lower at 220cps. (The Highland bagpipe tunes A470Hz –480 Hz, over half a tone higher than concert A440, hence Ian's understandable Bb confusion.) 
 
Although I think the song is uninteresting melodically, rhythmically and lyrically, it clearly has a wide appeal among my fellow Scots that transcends these limitations - in other words it is undeniably a popular anthem that transcends conventional musical criteria, one held in wide affection and esteem, and its place in the hearts of many Scots is secure. Few of them have any difficulty singing it, indidvidually or en masse, in a variety of keys, as a cursory listen to multiple versions on YouTube will confirm. I can even manage it myself ..

yours sincerely,

Peter Curran