Postgraduate Lives: Carley Williams, MLitt student at the University of Aberdeen

'I'd learnt the fiddle by the age of 10'
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The Independent Online

Scotland seems to have traditional music on its mind. Some people say Scottish traditions are dying but there has been a huge surge of interest in traditional music in the past 10 years. I'm from Vancouver, Canada, but my mother is from Glasgow and I've always been around Scottish culture. By the age of 10 I'd learnt the Scottish fiddle and Highland dance. No one is musical in my family, so I don't know where I got it from.

I did my undergraduate degree in folklore in Newfoundland and then, while helping out at a Scottish folk festival in Washington DC, I met Ian Russell who told me about the programme at Aberdeen. He's now my supervisor at the Elphinstone Institute, the only research centre specialising in the vernacular culture of the North-east and North of Scotland.

I started the MLitt last September. Ethnologists analyse the forces that shape cultural life, such as customs and oral tradition. We study the history and evolution of ethnology and folklore in relation to genres like oral stories, children's games, sports, past times and food.

There are two courses each semester, as well as research projects and exams. I did one project on recent folk song compositions, including a Canadian song about leaving Scotland during the clearances of the mid 1800s. This was when crofters were moved off the land and many emigrated to Canada and Australia in search of a better life.

My dissertation is on the role of traditional music in cultural policy. There are various guidelines being produced for preserving culture and traditions in Scotland, for example the level of training music tutors need before they can tutor, and how to get traditional music into schools.

I'm just getting started on my research and I'll need to dig through a lot of political jargon. The other people on the course are mainly Scots but there's a music teacher from Taiwan who wants to compare traditional Gaelic and Taiwan traditions.

North-east Scotland is known for its traditional singers and fiddlers, and there are lots of traditional sessions in pubs. I play in a pub once in a while and people are thrilled that I'm from so far away and I know the traditional tunes.

The first tune I ever played was a lament because it was an easy one, now I know plenty of jigs and reels. I like modern music too, especially U2 and Arcade Fire, a Canadian band which is on the CD player a lot where I live and which I'd never heard of until I came to Scotland.

In the future I may work for Unesco. I want to bring more music to the world, to help traditional cultures develop and interact within contemporary society.