Scottish folklorist to share stories, singing and waulking

The beating of the cloth provides the beat for the song. That just about sums up “waulking,” a Scottish word which describes the step in woolen cloth-making which involves the cleansing of cloth to eliminate oils, dirt and other impurities, while those performing the activity sing.

Scottish weaver and storyteller Norman Kennedy visits Whidbey’s Bayview Community Hall for a demonstration of waulking and Scottish folklore.

Scottish weaver and storyteller Norman Kennedy visits Whidbey’s Bayview Community Hall for a demonstration of waulking and Scottish folklore.

The beating of the cloth provides the beat for the song.

That just about sums up “waulking,” a Scottish word which describes the step in woolen cloth-making which involves the cleansing of cloth to eliminate oils, dirt and other impurities, while those performing the activity sing.

Internationally renowned traditional singer, storyteller and weaver Norman Kennedy will appear at Bayview Community Hall in Langley at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 23 in a program entitled “The Waulking of the Cloth.”

“These stories and songs I’ve been learning since as much as 50 years ago from all around the Gaelic-speaking areas of Britain,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy, a native Scot who resides in Vermont, will begin with an actual traditional Scottish waulking — a community activity similar to the process of felting — set to the rhythm of traditional work songs. Members of the audience will be invited to join in the singing and to find a place at the waulking table if they wish.

The waulking will be followed by a short concert of traditional songs and stories relating to the crafts of weaving and spinning.

One story involves a waulking which Kennedy learned from the famous Scottish storyteller and Gaelic speaker Annie Johnston on the island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. Johnston was renowned for her store of knowledge from past centuries, including songs, folk tales and customs. This story, like many of Kennedy’s stories and songs, has never been recorded by folklorists or written down.

From his early days in Aberdeen, Scotland, to his years as the master-craftsman weaver in Colonial Williamsburg, to those at his own weaving school, and his many concerts and appearances, Kennedy has come to be an American national treasure. In 2004, he was the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts’ prestigious National Heritage Award, a fitting approbation for a man who comes from a family whose Aberdeen roots have been documented through written accounts since at least the 1200s.

A lifelong student and keeper of the “old ways,” Kennedy not only soaked up the history and traditions of his native Aberdeen, but spent much time in his youth on the Island of Barra, where he learned Gaelic and the ways of the Hebridean culture through oral tradition.

He was invited by Mike Seeger, Pete Seeger’s half-brother, to come to the United States and perform at the first Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island in 1965.

He subsequently settled in the states and became the master weaver at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.

In Vermont, he opened his own weaving school, using the readily available looms, spinning wheels and accessories from the late 18th and early 19th centuries still found in that area.

Kennedy has performed frequently at the Smithsonian Institution’s Annual Folklife Festival on the Mall in Washington, D.C., as well as continually at the most important folklife festivals throughout the United States, Canada and Scotland, and on television and in film.

Admission to the event is $15 at the door.

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