A PILGRIMAGE TO MONYMUSK
In the summer of 2006, my wife and I made a pilgrimage to Monymusk, a village in Northeast Scotland
that gave its name to a fiddle tune played throughout the English-speaking world.  We were there to
participate in the North Atlantic Fiddle Convention in Aberdeen, and we arrived a week early to give
ourselves time to get better acquainted with Northeast Scotland.  For some years I had been playing
“Monymusk” (or “Money Musk,” as it is often spelled in fiddle collections) and introducing it with a
narrative about the tune’s origin.  More recently I had been fantasizing about an actual visit to
Monymusk.  The previous year Ken Perlman and I were briefly in Aberdeen during a concert tour, and
Monymusk, which is only 15-20 miles to the west, seemed to beckon.  But our tight schedule permitted
no side trips.  This time I was determined not to defer the pilgrimage.  Karen and I landed in the
Aberdeen airport on July 20th, rented a car, and immediately drove to Monymusk.

The tune “Monymusk” was apparently composed (or “set,” which has a bit more latitude than
“composed”) and given the title “Sir Archibald Grant of Moniemusk’s Reel” by the Scottish violin tune
composer Daniel Dow.  There are references to Dow having composed the tune in 1775 or 1776, and it
quickly became ubiquitous in Scotland, Ireland, and North America.  Printed versions are legion, both in
the key of A and in G.  Sometimes the title names not a tune but a dance, and it is often described as a
tune for the “Highland Fling,” a popular dance in the Scottish fashion.  Like other simple but catchy
tunes, it seems to have inspired conscious variations and amplifications as a kind of set piece or show
piece.  My mentor on the fiddle, Henry Reed, played it with up to four parts.

In North America, and apparently in Ireland as well, Sir Archibald Grant’s name was shorn from the
tune’s title, and even in Scotland it has sometimes been called simply “Monymusk.”  Few outside of
Northeast Scotland could have known what the title referred to, yet the title somehow fired the
imagination of fiddlers everywhere and lived on (usually spelled “Money Musk”) just as vigorously as
the tune it described.

The village of Monymusk, lying just south of the Don River in Aberdeenshire, dates from medieval times,
but it entered modern times in the 18th century when Sir Archibald Grant of Monymusk redesigned and
rebuilt the village to house estate workers and craftsmen.  Some Scottish lairds of the 18th century
cleared their lands and forced the people to emigrate to America, but Sir Archibald Grant apparently
wanted to modernize in a progressive and people-supporting way – all of which was a great relief for me
to discover, for I wanted the man somehow to deserve the honor that a great and enduring fiddle tune
bestows.  The village was rebuilt again in the 1840s, and it was renovated in the early 1890s by Sir
Arthur Grant, whose name is on several plaques adorning buildings on the village square today (as one
photograph accompanying this essay shows).  Members of the Grant family still live in the large manor
house nearby (shown in two photographs here).

The accompanying photo essay recapitulates our July 20th pilgrimage to the village of Monymusk,
which took us first to the village square, then to the old church and cemetery just off the square, then to
the nearby Monymusk House and walled garden of the Grant family.  Karen took a number of
photographs, some of which are included with this essay.  Now, when I play the tune, it is comforting to
be able to picture the lovely village of Monymusk, contemplate its history of renewal at the hands of Sir
Archibald Grant and his successors, and recall the happy day when our pilgrimage brought us there.


REFERENCES:

Alan Jabbour’s Home Page.  
www.alanjabbour.com.

Bayard, Samuel P., ed.  Dance to the Fiddle, March to the Fife: Instrumental Folk Tunes in
Pennsylvania.  University Park and London: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1982.  See
especially notes to #343 “Moniemusk.”

Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier: The Henry Reed Collection.  Library of Congress website
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/reed/.  Contains several performances of “Money Musk” by
Henry Reed, Glen Lyn, VA, recorded by Alan Jabbour.

The Hollow Rock String Band: Traditional Dance Tunes.  County CD.  Played on fiddle by Alan
Jabbour.  Available from Alan Jabbour’s website.

Jabbour, Alan, ed.  American Fiddle Tunes.  CD with accompanying booklet.  Originally published as LP
and booklet by the Library of Congress, 1971.  CD edition published by Rounder Records.  Available
from Alan Jabbour’s website.  Extensive notes accompanying field recording of Michael Cruise, fiddle,
Tucson, AZ, 1942.
The square in the village of Monymusk, Aberdeenshire
Photo by Karen Singer Jabbour
Monymusk Stores and Post Office
Photo by Karen Singer Jabbour
The Grant Arms Hotel, Monymusk
Photo by Karen Singer Jabbour
Building in Monymusk with a sign: ‘Rebuilt by Sir Arthur Grant,
Bart. [Baronet], 1890’
Photo by Karen Singer Jabbour
Monymusk Church and Cemetery
Photo by Karen Singer Jabbour
Old gravestones in Monymusk Cemetery rearranged to form border
around old trees
Photo by Karen Singer Jabbour
Entrance from road to Monymusk House
Photo by Karen Singer Jabbour