Celebrating Robert Burns

"A prince can make a belted knight,

A marquis, duke, an' a' that;

But an honest man's abon his might,

Gude faith, he maunna fa' that!

For a' that, an' a' that,

Their dignities an' a' that;

The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,

Are higher rank than a' that."

Robert Burns' song, "A Man's A Man For A' That," and several other songs by the Scottish poet will be performed during the sixth annual Evening of Scottish Music featuring Brian Freeman.

Freeman, a Scottish musician and an Ashland resident, along with four special guests, will sing Burns' songs in the Old Scots dialect in which they were originally penned and will play them to their traditional tune in honor of the poet's birthday, Jan. 25.

The Burns "Supper," or celebration, will begin at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 23, at the First United Methodist Church, 175 N. Main St., Ashland.

Burns (1759-1796) was born into the Scottish working class and, although unsuccessful at most occupations besides wooing women, he was an exceptional poet who wrote for the common person.

"What Burns did that was so important was preserving the Old Scots dialect (the lowland dialect)," Freeman said.

During the late 1700s, English prominence in Scotland began to influence the country's various dialects. Burns was a music collector and would listen in pubs and write down the verses. Because music of the day was not recorded but passed through generations orally, many songs changed, but Burns was able to secure many of the original lyrics, Freeman said.

"For most folk songs there are four to five different versions because it is changed slightly as it is passed through different people, regions and dialects," he said.

In 1979, Freeman visited Ayrshire, Scotland, where Burns grew up, and since then he has been playing exclusively Scottish music.

"It's a lot easier to sing the song when you've been amongst the people and can experience the cadence of the songs," he said.

Freeman, who plays guitar and octave mandolin and sings, tours the Northwest on weekends throughout the year performing traditional Scottish folk songs at "Burns Night" events, Highland games, art organizations and, of course, Ashland's Evening of Scottish Music.

"My favorite place to play is where the sheep and cows outnumber the people," he said.

Before 1979, Freeman had preferred playing folk and rock songs.

"The (Scottish) melodies really caught, and I always had an aversion to singing 'baby,' and you have to sing that a lot in rock and roll," Freeman joked.

Each year for an Evening of Scottish Music, Freeman is joined by new instrumentalists. This year, Freeman will play with violinist Crystal Reeves, vocalist Christine Williams, piper Michaela Nuss and vocalist Jim Finnegan.

Reeves, a member of the bluegrass group Siskiyou Summit, teaches mandolin, violin and fiddle locally as well as at music camps and the renowned Puget Sound Guitar Workshop.

Williams is a member of the Celtic folk group, Thistledown, and the Southern Oregon Repertory Singers and teaches voice at Southern Oregon University. She has performed in regional and international concert theaters from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to the Growtowski Institute in Poland.

Nuss, a freshman at SOU, studied voice with Williams and Fredna Grimland. She has played the highland bagpipes since she was 9 years old.

Finnegan sings Celtic music most Sundays at the Black Sheep and was a former OSF company member.

The first half of Saturday's show will include Burns' songs, and the second half, other traditional Scottish songs along with a few of Freeman's originals.

Freeman has independently produced six albums featuring many of his originals — "Early Morning, Late Night People" (1980 on vinyl), "Fifth Finger Music" (1983 on vinyl), "Placed in My Mind" (1991), "Can You Hear Me" (1994), "Songs of Robert Burns" (2003) and "A Bottle and a Friend" (2008).

"There's always something to write about that somebody else hasn't," he said.

Freeman said he's written more than 100 songs beginning with "Anthem to the Grubs" in seventh grade, but about 60 have stood the test of time. The majority of his songs relate to Scotland, including a love song to his favorite place in the world, the Isle of Staffa.

The group will perform Burns' "Such A Parcel Of Rogues," regarding the selling-out of the Scottish to the English, "The Shepherd's Wife," a song about a woman trying to entice her husband to come home from the hill to a supper he dislikes, and "Crowdie Evermair," a song about eating porridge all the time.

Freeman said that part of the charm of Scottish music is that it is not as recognized as Irish music and therefore, "there's discovery at every show that happens."

Tickets to the show in Ashland are $15 and $5 for children ages 12 and under, and are available at The Book Exchange, 89 Oak St., Ashland. To reserve tickets, call 541-482-1915.

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