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16 Jan 2020

Burns violin brings sound of Scotland to US

Two men hold the Burns violin between them, standing in front of a bust of Burns.
David Hopes (Head of Collections & Interiors) and Murray Pittock (Trustee) with the violin
The historic violin with links to Robert Burns is being taken on a tour of the US this January, as part of celebrations for the Bard’s birthday.

The 18th-century instrument is part of the National Trust for Scotland’s unrivalled Burns collection of more than 5,000 artefacts, which are in the care of our conservation charity at Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway.

The violin will be touring the United States as part of a partnership between the Scottish Government, the National Trust for Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA. Featuring in a series of Burns celebrations across the States, it’ll be accompanied by acclaimed Scottish violinist Alistair McCulloch, who’ll perform a programme of Burns and Burns-inspired compositions.

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: ‘As Scotland’s greatest cultural icon, Robert Burns encapsulates our creativity, pride and confidence. His legacy is of immense value to Scotland and is recognised the world over. I am sure the Gregg violin will bring a certain magic to Burns Night celebrations across the US, and remind those coming together to celebrate our National Bard of the great contribution he made to our shared culture and heritage.’

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“The violin is one of the jewels of our Burns collection and hearing it being played, as Burns did, is very special. ”
David Hopes, Head of Collections & Interiors

A new string to the Gregg violin’s bow

Sometime around the 1750s, a violin was made. It wasn’t an expensive item; a provincial craftsman fashioned it from pinewood, bird’s-eye maple and plain cut sycamore. 

If the violin had miraculously survived until the present day, it would have been a story in itself. But this violin was touched not just with fame but with legend. By 1779, the violin had passed into the ownership of William Gregg of Tarbolton, Ayrshire. Gregg was a dance tutor and he used the instrument to accompany the lessons he gave in the town’s Bachelors’ Club. One of the young men undergoing instruction was Robert Burns, Scotland’s world-renowned ‘ploughman poet’. He wrote that he hoped dancing would ‘give my manners a brush’. More likely, he realised that dancing lessons were an excellent form of rebellion, as his father frowned upon such sinful behaviour.

A video showing the itinerary for the Gregg violin tour

In the care of the Trust’s Dr David Hopes and violinist Alistair McCulloch, the Gregg violin is leaving its home in Alloway’s Robert Burns Birthplace Museum for the US.

Thanks to the support of the Scottish Affairs Office in Washington and the National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA, it will make its first landfall in New York on 16 January. Thereafter it will be played at a series of events across the States: Chicago (18 January and 30 January–1 February), Boston (20–22 January), Santa Monica (for BAFTA Los Angeles, 23 January) and Washington DC (25–29 January).

Each step of the way, David will report on the performances and events that the Gregg violin will feature in – including a collaboration with internationally renowned violinist Rachel Barton Pine in Chicago. The tour will promote the legacy of Burns, raise the profile of Scotland and help support good causes in the US, as well as the work of the National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA in its 20th year of raising funds to help conserve and protect our country’s heritage.

The National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA’s Boston-based Executive Director Kirstin Bridier said: ‘For more than two decades, NTSUSA has helped Americans from across the country to preserve Robert Burns’s legacy in Scotland. We are delighted to bring this violin – once part of the poet’s daily life – to the US as a tangible reminder of what has been accomplished and the strong connection between our two countries.’

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