On a recent Saturday morning Keith Dunn and John
Falstaff drove from the Atlanta area to our home, Waverley, on Lake
Lanier in north Georgia. We spent the better part of the morning
discussing a subject near and dear to a lot of people – Robert Burns.
They had come to see my Burns collection and, in the process, we talked
about the Kilmarnock and other Burns editions in my library. I have
attempted to limit my collection to books published no later than 1850,
but I have not always been successful in that attempt. Of particular
interest to John, a Dubliner, were the Dublin editions consisting of an
original 1787, a 1790, and a 1793. All, I might add, carry the moniker
as “pirate” editions. Poor Burns never got a cent from the
penny-pinching Irishmen James Magee and William Gilbert who literally
stole the Kilmarnock contents and reissued it as their own.
various stories with Keith and John regarding the acquisitions of my
collection that now numbers over a thousand volumes and which is very
dear to Susan, my wife, and me. Over the year we have acquired a couple
of large busts of Burns and recently were able to attain two manuscripts
of Burns, “Once Fondly Lov’d” and “Jessie - A Scots Song”. But before
going any farther, let me introduce you to Keith and John.
Keith is a fellow member of
the Atlanta Burns Club and has entertained our membership with his
fiddle playing. He has his own website, and you may want to check it out
at www.keithdunn.me and learn more about this talented Scotsman. Keith
said in a recent email to me, “I do know that Burns had an interest in
playing the fiddle…which relates to me personally…but along with that, I
very much appreciate the depth of Burns bare bones psychology that is
woven into his poetry”.
I asked Keith to give me a paragraph or two
regarding his fiddle playing, and it is my privilege to share so much of
this man’s life with you on the subject:
Photo (L-R): Keith Dunn with the
Kilmarnock (Photo by John Falstaff)
Keith performing with fiddle at Burns Club
of Atlanta (photo credit unknown)
“I attended the Atlanta School of Performing Arts
for Violin for 2 1/2 years afterwards playing in a small church
orchestra for 13 years. Because of the lack of traditional "Scottish"
fiddle music in the Atlanta area, I slowly moved from the orchestral
music to Irish, bluegrass, Gospel and a little old-time fiddle music. I
have been in a few loosely organized acoustic bands, one of whom I still
occasionally join for special volunteer benefits. I play at a monthly
"Gospel Jam" session in Hiram, Georgia. In 2006 I was invited to join
with the Celtic fusion group "Keltic Kudzu" for a season. Traveling
became intense in a tri-state area and after a season I left the
group. I have attended Alasdair Frasers "Valley of the Moon Scottish
Fiddle School" five years, this Aug. 2010 being my 6th year and have had
teachers there from Sweden (Elika Frizell), Norway (Annbjorg
Lien), Quebec (Andre' Brunet), Scotland (Alasdair Fraser), Shetland
Islands (Catriona MacDonald), Ireland (Martin Hayes), California,(Deby
Grosjean and Laura Risk) the northern U.S. (Darol Anger) and
the Appalachian mountains (Bruce Molsky), Boston, U.S. (Liz Carrol) and
more. One of many memorable moments at the Valley of the Moon was
learning one of the Shetland tunes "Da Slockit Light" inside the
trunk of a redwood tree at midnight, playing it until I learned it,
well beyond the midnight hour. I have been a member of the San
Francisco Scottish Fiddler Club (S.F.S.F.) since 2003. The S.F.S.F. is
directed by master Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser and is under the
umbrella of the "California Scottish Fiddlers".
I aid the "Scottish Fiddle Tent Committee" at the Stone Mountain
Highland Games and I have played for the Emory University Christmas
production "Celtic Christmas" for 2 years.”
I met John Falstaff thanks to
another great Irishman, distinguished Emory University scholar,
Professor James Flannery. Jim invited me on behalf of Falstaff to speak
in January of 2010 on WRFG (89.3) radio about Robert Burns as
celebrations around the world were beginning to kick-off in celebration
of the 250th birthday of the beloved Bard. I enjoyed being on John’s
radio program and can understand why many Scots and Irish people speak
so highly of him. His laid back demeanor while interviewing makes you
feel at home. I particular enjoyed the format of the show when he would
ask a question, I would answer, whereupon John would then play one or
two Scottish songs to compliment the discussion.
(L-R): John Falstaff holding Burns'
Kilmarnock edition and Frank Shaw. (Photo by Keith Dunn)
Just who is John Falstaff? Briefly, he has hosted
the Celtic Show on WRFG Atlanta (Georgia) on 89.3FM since 1995. This
show, which airs each Sunday from 5 to 7pm,
and may be enjoyed streaming on the web at
www.wrfg.org, features the finest modern traditional offerings from
Scotland, Ireland, Wales and wherever Celtic music is found, as
well as gems from the past. In 2009, there
were several special broadcasts devoted to the
250th anniversary of Robert Burns, and most recently
the passing of tenor Kenneth McKellar was noted with a selection
of his wonderful Burns recordings.
Last summer, for the first
time in decades, John returned to Scotland for
a short visit, the highlight of which was cycling along the canal
towpath from Edinburgh to Glasgow. He was pleased to find
Scotland relatively unchanged after all the
intervening years; the highlands were as
stunningly beautiful as ever.
John, in addition to being
host of The Celtic Show, is also a freelance writer. In an email after
his visit with us, he wrote, “I was telling an (Irish) Burns fan in
Edinburgh about my trip up to see you, and what really got his attention
was the mere existence of the Dublin editions. We have so much to
learn.” I might add here that I recently acquired a 1787 Dublin edition
on the internet. In sharing that find in a conversation with Dr. Ross
Roy, a.k.a. “Chairman of the Bard”, he could not recall a Dublin first
edition (1787) being for sale in the last 25 years. So you see, “the
luck of the Irish” is not always reserved for them, and every now and
then a Scotsman has his turn.
Of particular interest to the
two men were the Burns busts in the collection. The bronze was crafted
by artist Whisper Frankel, General Manager of the Fine Arts Foundry of
Texas in Houston. The marble one was done by renowned English artist
David Cornell and was purchased from Alistair MacDougal, Director for
Stone Icons, Ltd. in London. Both busts are excellent works, and they
stand guard 24/7 over the Burns and Scottish books in the library.
Interestingly, the Burns bust commissioned by the Heather and Thistle
Society of Houston and located in the city’s International Commemorative
Sculpture Garden is the work of Frankel as well. With the great
assistance of my friend Jack Hume, ironically I was able to convince
Whisper to make our bronze of Burns from the same mould. Both bronze
works were made possible because the Burns Club of Atlanta loaned the
Heather and Thistle Society (Jack Hume at work again) their bust so the
mould could be made for the society. .
The three of us have something
else in common beside our love of Burns and that is our love of books.
It was interesting to observe each of my new friends as I pointed out to
them and handed them the various editions of Poems, Chiefly in the
Scottish Dialect, beginning with the Kilmarnock, both Edinburgh
editions, then London, followed by New York, Philadelphia and Belfast.
Of particular interest to me was watching their expressions as they held
the two manuscripts of Burns’ own handwriting in their hands - not a
facsimile - but the real thing. Julio Iglesias and the Captain and
Tennille have thrilled us by singing what I am trying to describe - the
joy of friendship. But Beethoven’s 9th Symphony based on Friedrich von
Schiller’s poem Ode to Joy says it best - Come sing a song of joy!
all too brief meeting of over two hours was capped off around the table
as Susan had prepared lunch and we shared the wonderful desserts brought
by John. Yes, we ate from the famous Royal Doulton Burns plates
featuring the various people or characters in the life of Burns. They
have been collected over the years from eBay sellers.
small meeting of Burnsians might not qualify in the strictest sense of
Auld Lang Syne, I can assure you that all three of us will remember it
as long as we live and somewhere down the road of life, it will become a
grand memory of three friends who gathered one lazy Saturday morning
long, long ago, becoming days gone by, or even “once upon a time” that
will always be remembered. New friends cannot replace old friends as
another song says but in this case, I’ll take these two new friends over
some of my old friends any day.
We are in Columbia, SC as I
write this. At dinner last night with Drs. Ross Roy, Patrick Scott,
Susan and Lucie Roy, Ross and I were engaging in a wee sidebar about
friendship when he casually quoted the poet John Burroughs, summing up
this article, “The friends I seek are seeking me.” (FRS: 5.10.10)