John Murdoch Henderson (1902-1972)
The John Murdoch Henderson Music Collection
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The Life and Times of John Murdoch Henderson
Part I - A Buchan Farmer's Son

Prolific composer, musician and avid collector of music, John Murdoch Henderson was born on 31st March, 1902, at Nether Oldwhat, a small farm by New Deer, Aberdeenshire. The second son of farmer Charles Henderson and Mary Jane Murdoch, he grew up in the heart of Buchan's farmland with his older brother, Charles and younger sisters Mary Helen, Esther and Jeannie.
After attending the local village school at Oldwhat, he became "Dux" (a Scottish senior school's most successful scholar) at New Deer Secondary School, an achievement which he later repeated at Peterhead Academy. Earning a place at the University of Aberdeen, Henderson studied both the arts and sciences graduating MA in 1926.
As a teacher of general sciences, he took his first professional post at the Frederick Street School in Aberdeen before moving on to Ruthieston School where he taught mathematics and the sciences.
From an early age Henderson took a lively interest in the musical culture of his native land, the fiddle tunes and songs of Buchan. He also had a deep passion for the countryside around his home and grew to become an accomplished botanist and ornithologist. He wrote articles on the subject for numerous publications including "The Scottish Naturalist."

A young JMH.

Nether Oldwhat (pronounced locally "Al-Fat"), October 2001

Henderson's niece, Gladys, remembers her uncle John as "a typically canny Buchan lad" who regularly cycled the 35 miles from Aberdeen to his family home at Oldwhat where he liked nothing better than a farmhouse dinner of "chappit kale and oatcakes" or "skirlie and tatties."

Marsh Marigolds - Caltha palustris
Henderson's boyhood interest in wild flowers and wildlife led to a life long study of botany and natural history.

She recalls the many times John took his nieces and nephews on long countryside walks, explaining many of natures mysteries and teaching them the names of the local wild flowers and plants - coltsfoot, speedwell, marsh marigolds and the many more that grew by their Buchan home. It gave the youngsters a greater understanding of their surroundings and in so doing, helped them all to develop a deep respect for the natural world.

During his student days in Aberdeen, Henderson suffered a very close call when he fell from the cliff tops of Nigg Bay as he searched for botanical specimens. After a long struggle the Coastguard managed to get him safely back to the cliff tops, using a chair lift and with help from a number of people who had gathered around the incident. He was taken to hospital in a very serious condition and his recovery was to prove to be a slow and painful one. He spent several months in convalescence at his family home during which time he made regular excursions to the nearby Broch Dam where he enjoyed fishing and observing the wild life.
The Press and Journal reported the "Accident at Nigg Bay" in 1925.

The Last of the Buchan Ospreys
In July 1953, "The Scottish Naturalist" published an essay by Henderson. "The Osprey In The North East" gave an account of the ospreys that fished Loch Riach, the Broch Dam at Bonnykelly, a half mile from his home. He first saw an osprey at the Dam in the summer of 1925 and wrote of how much he enjoyed the spectacle of the birds' pounce and plunge as they took fish from the waters of the loch. The article sadly concludes that the last of the Bonnykelly Ospreys was fatally wounded by gunshot in the summer of 1929.
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Henderson died in Aberdeen, in November 1972. The following tribute from William Hardy, a friend and fellow fiddle player, was published in the Press and Journal newspaper a few days later:

Press & Journal, November 11th 1972

Friend's last tribute to N.E.'s
"Man of Music"

. . . . We have received the following tribute in connection with the death of retired Aberdeen teacher Mr. John Murdoch , Henderson. .(70) . of . 15, Craigton Rd from Mr William Hardie of. 350, Holborn Street Aberdeen, a close friend.

With the sudden death of Mr John Murdoch Henderson a week past Friday, Aberdeen not only lost an ex-school teacher of maths and science, but the North East and indeed the whole of Scotland, surely lost its most gifted and brilliant composer since the late J. Scott Skinner, in the field of our national instrumental music.

Besides being a composer of such distinction in his own right, he also dedicated a great part of his life to research and rescue from oblivion of Scots music traditional, and from the earliest composers onwards. In this prodigious task he inevitably built up an enormous collection. He early became an ardent admirer of James Scott Skinner, George T. Taylor and James F. Dickie, the New Deer violinist who, at the height of his powers, was a player of truly exceptional ability, style and taste. After Scott Skinner's death in 1927, Murdoch Henderson became the secretary of the J. Scott Skinner Memorial Committee and was very active as conductor, etc., in fund-raising concerts which culminated in the fine memorial erected at Allenvale Cemetery in 1931. He was also responsible for the inclusion of J. Scott Skinner among the "greats" in Grove's Dictionary of Music.

For some time before World War II, Murdoch Henderson, due to his undoubted eminence as the authority on strathspey and reel violin playing was in demand as adjudicator at competitions. During his years as organiser of the Scots Instrumental Section of the Aberdeen and North East Music Festival, this section enjoyed great popularity.
The J. Murdoch Henderson trophies donated by him are a lasting reminder of this period of his participation in
the musical life of the North East.
He published "Flowers of Scottish Melody" in 1935 and "The Scottish Music Maker" in 1957, besides some sheet music in the intervening years. Latterly he had been occupied in preparing further works for publication.
A keen nature-lover, he enjoyed bird-watching, botany and gardening.

By kind permission of the
Press and Journal, 2001


Henderson the Musician

A Grand Evening Concert

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