The Life and Times of John Murdoch Henderson
Part II - Henderson the Musician
Henderson 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'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.
in his garden at
Nether Oldwhat Farm, 1920s
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
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
New Byth's "Wonderful Boy"
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.
"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
A Buchan Farmer's Son
A Grand Evening Concert