NEFA - The North East Folklore Archive

The John Murdoch Henderson Collection

The Collector - The Musician
Part II - Henderson the Musician

John Murdoch Henderson playing the fiddleHenderson was born into a world of "home-grown" music. The radio and television were still things of the future and the Buchan district was renowned for its deep tradition in fiddle and dance music and the bothy songs of its farming community. Music sessions were a part of life on the Buchan farms of the day.

Inspired by James Fowlie Dickie, a local fiddle legend, John took up the violin as a lad and within a few years had earned a reputation as a fine young player. As he grew up he worked to develop his skill as a musician and studied hard to increase his knowledge of the fiddle tradition. He grew to become a leading authority on the instrument with a deep understanding of his musical heritage. His vast repertoire included traditional tunes, tunes written by his contemporaries and those who had gone before them and more than sixty of his own published compositions.

Henderson in his garden at
Nether Oldwhat Farm, 1920s

Henderson's niece, Gladys, remembers how her uncle would cycle from Aberdeen every Saturday to the family home at Oldwhat to have his clothes washed and ironed. He would spend hours at the piano in "the best room" arranging and composing for the fiddle and piano.

Henderson's hard and diligent work would eventually come to fruition in 1935 with the publication of his highly acclaimed collection of music, "Flowers of Scottish Melody."

In addition to the musical manuscripts, the book contains Henderson's biographical notes on the music makers that inspired him - Neil Gow, Nathaniel Gow, Robert Macintosh, William Marshall, Peter Milne, James Davies and, of course, his close friend, James Scott Skinner.

Champion fiddler Joseph Sim As a young lad Henderson studied the playing styles of the Buchan fiddle giants - the Hardies of Methlick, Hector McAndrew of Fyvie Castle, Joseph Sim (New Byth's "Wonderful Boy") and Jim Dickie of New Deer, master of the slow strathspey.

In later years Henderson travelled to Ireland and Shetland to further his studies of the styles and musical interpretations of the native fiddle masters. He was a great believer in the traditionally established styles and an outspoken critic of those who might drift too far from the roots. His great knowledge of the tradition made him a regular choice as an adjudicator at local fiddle competitions.

Champion fiddler Joseph Sim
New Byth's "Wonderful Boy"


"Scotland's Forgotten Genius. . . ."

In 1985 the Buchan Heritage Society paid tribute to J.M.H. at a concert in Mintlaw Academy. The concert featured performances by fiddlers from Banchory, Buchan, Meldrum and Macduff in celebration of a hardback special edition reprint of Henderson's "Flowers of Scottish Melody." At the concert, society chairman James Duncan (James F. Dickie's son-in-law) described Henderson as "Scotland's Forgotten Genius."

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