Manuscripts are one of the most important sources of Lowland and Border music; transferring these into an accessible form is not always straightforward.

Much of what we play as ‘Lowland and Border’ music has been reclaimed over the past thirty years from manuscript sources, and most of these date from an era when musical notation was still something of an ill-defined art amongst those musicians whose work we now rely on.
Most of us, however, rarely have the chance to study these original manuscripts; access to many of them is available only at the library where they are held, and even those that are available in digital facsimile online may be unknown to many. This means that pipers keen to learn what they can of this music must depend on those who do have access to the original sources, and thus it is largely from the few publications that have appeared during the revival  that the very concept of ‘Lowland and Border music’ has been built.
Those who have been able to take on the task of distributing music from these sources are, however, vulnerable to certain problems, which can be broadly grouped into three categories:
1. Editorial inaccuracy; like everyone else,  editors are fallible; in copying from a manuscript into some other medium they can make mistakes; as Matt Seattle said in the essay he included in the third edition of the William Dixon manuscript “He probably made fewer mistakes in his whole book than I did in transcribing it.”
2. Editorial ‘silent amendments’. It is the task of an editor to produce a ‘performable’ edition of a manuscript; otherwise the only real recourse is to facsimile. However, an editor who intends to do justice to the sources is probably obliged to describe where the edited text diverges from the source; ‘silent’ or unacknowledged ‘improvements’ are unhelpful; ‘adapted from’ is really not sufficient.
It should be noted that it is possible for these two categories to be combined; an editor may make an alteration and simply forget having done it.
3. Errors in the source. This is the most common kind of issue that an editor is faced with- how to interpret an ambiguity in the source. Sometimes these are errors on the part of the original scribe; what we might see as ‘slips of the pen’. More challenging are items such as key signatures, items which either conflict with other available settings or simply result in very unlikely modalities. Sometimes these can be seen to be errors; other times it is a question of whether to trust the source and let an ‘unorthodox’ setting stand unaltered.
As an example of the kind of issue that can arise, here is my own published version of ‘Wheir  Shall Our Goodman Ly’ from the fiddle manuscript of Henry Atkinson, dated 1695. [Fig. 1] This appeared in my book Welcome Home My Dearie, on the LBPS website and in the issue of Common Stock for December 2012 [vol.29 no.2, p. 26]:

Fig. 1

It has since been pointed out that I have fallen into not just one but two of the above editorial pits listed. In Welcome Home My Dearie I described this setting as ‘adapted from’ without saying anything about the adaptations made, but perhaps more significantly I have published it in a modality that contradicts not only the source I quote but also every other known appearance of the tune.
At the time of preparing the book, I had taken my setting, not directly from the manuscript, but from a transcription I had made some years before from Fleischmann’s masterly Sources of Irish Traditional Music [Fig. 2].

Fig. 2

In preparing my edited version I chose to implement the modality it has in Fleichmann’s edition, by setting it in B ‘minor’. I could have chosen to set it in A ‘minor’, [see fig. 3] which would have been in consonance with the drones, [though it would require C and F naturals]; my choice was a conscious decision, based solely on personal preference for the drone /chanter configuration. It did mean, however, that I had to make ‘adaptations’ to the second strain to accommodate the fact that in my chosen pitch I could not retain the high B’s that a direct transposition would require [the high A’s in Fig. 3].

transcription 3

Fig. 3

There are numerous later versions of the tune. They have various titles but all  are set in the mixolydian or major modes. The first of these is in the George Bowie fiddle manuscript, less than ten years after Atkinson’s. I published this setting in full [in a transposed version, with acknowledged minor amendments] in Common Stock vol.29 no. 2. Here, in the original pitch, is the opening strain [Fig. 4]

transcription 4

Fig. 4

When we compare this with Henry Atkinson’s manuscript [Fig. 5] it appears to be more or less identical, with the exception of the second half of bars 1 and 5. Atkinson’s setting seems to be in contradiction to Fleischmann’s [and hence to mine]. However, closer inspection of the manuscript shows that on line 2 the scribe has entered a key signature of 2 flats, thereby transforming the modality. Feischmann clearly felt entitled to take this as definitive and published the setting in Fig. 1.

Atkinson's original MS

Fig. 5     by kind permission of the Society of Antiquaries, Newcastle

In fact there is an earlier version of this tune, though it comes with a different title. In the 7th edition of his Dancing Master, some ten years before Atkinson,  Playford published a tune called ‘Black and Grey’ [Fig. 6]; compare this with my Fig.3. What we can’t be sure of is how Playford would have pitched a drone to this tune.

transcription 6

Fig. 6

As for how this tune should be played today, it is clearly up to the piper - either is justified by the sources. Indeed, Atkinson’s manuscript itself contains what might be taken as evidence that both settings could be current; he includes two untitled versions of a tune which Seattle has identified as ‘Bold Wilkinson’; both are in G; one with a key signature of one sharp, the other with one flat. However, the setting I gave of Atkinson’s ‘Wheir  Shall Our Goodman Ly’, a tone above the drone, I now regard as a new, smallpipe version with its own character, not, as I implied, an historically authentic one. It is one of a number of ‘errors’ I hope to put right in a future publication.