The Land of the Leal

“And so, in that derelict museum, upon the thick soft carpeting of dust, to Weena’s huge delight, I solemnly performed a kind of composite dance, whistling The Land of the Leal as cheerfully as I could. In part it was a modest cancan, in part a step dance, in part a skirt-dance (so far as my tail-coat permitted), and in part original. For I am naturally inventive, as you know.”

In Chapter 8 of “The Time Machine,” H.G. Wells describes how the Time Traveller and Weena enter a derelict museum to explore its vast, gloomy interior. To amuse Weena, or perhaps distract her from the austere surroundings and keep her spirits up the Traveller begins dancing and whistling a tune, ‘The Land of the Leal’. This moving and stoic song was originally written by Lady Carolina Nairne of Perthshire, Scotland (1766-1845) in about 1798. The air (a melody borrowed from another song) that she set her words to was a very old Scottish tune. In “The Scottish Review,” Vol. 27, Pg. 115, published 1896, the air is called “Hey Now The Day Dawes.” Subsequently an “anonymous versifier” set lyrics to the tune, which became known as “Hey Tuttie Taitie” or “Hey Tuttie Tattie.”:

I’m wearin’ awa’, John
Like snaw-wreaths in thaw, John,
I’m wearin’ awa’
To the land o’ the leal.
There ‘s nae sorrow there, John,
There ‘s neither cauld nor care, John,
The day is aye fair
In the land o’ the leal.

Our bonnie bairn ‘s there, John,
She was baith gude and fair, John;
And O! we grudged her sair
To the land o’ the leal.
But sorrow’s sel’ wears past, John,
And joy ‘s a-coming fast, John,
The joy that ‘s aye to last
In the land o’ the leal.

Sae dear ‘s the joy was bought, John,
Sae free the battle fought, John,
That sinfu’ man e’er brought
To the land o’ the leal.
O, dry your glistening e’e, John!
My saul langs to be free, John,
And angels beckon me
To the land o’ the leal.

O, haud ye leal and true, John!
Your day it ‘s wearin’ through, John,
And I’ll welcome you
To the land o’ the leal.
Now fare-ye-weel, my ain John,
This warld’s cares are vain, John,
We’ll meet, and we’ll be fain,
In the land o’ the leal.

Lady Nairne wrote the words when the only child of her friend, Mrs. Archibald Campbell Colquhoun died. This sad song with such a sad story behind it soon had me contemplating if it might be possible to somehow work this melancholy, but pretty tune into the fabric of the musical, so I undertook a little research. As usual I wasn’t the first to consider this: the makers of the 1960 The Time Machine movie (directed by George Pal) had put some serious consideration into the idea of using ‘Land of the Leal’ and the song is mentioned in earlier drafts of David Duncan’s screenplay. Peggy Lee had even recorded a version of it, however for some reason they never used it in the movie.

But what about the tune? Well I discovered this beautiful interpretation by Scottish folk band, ‘The Clydesiders‘ and set about meticulously reconstructing pianist Chris Stout’s performance as MIDI file so I’d be free to experiment playing the tune on different instruments and at different tempos. I’m not a piano player so my approach involved a slow and laborious process of listening, playing in just a few notes at a time and then tweaking the MIDI parameters, velocity, volume, etc until the resulting piece sounded convincing. The power of MIDI is the flexibility: the volume and timing dynamics can be adjusted after the performance is captured, which is a life-saver to a musician like myself as I often find that I’m playing too heavily and my timing is sloppy to say the least. Also, effects, reverb, compression can be added post performance to enhance it.

A small section of the MIDI sequence for ‘The Land of the Leal’
A small section of the MIDI sequence for ‘The Land of the Leal’.

Here’s the finished piano performance:

I could spend forever adjusting and tweaking, however to preserve my sanity I decided to wrap the project up. There are still a few imperfections, but it’s good enough for government work. That is, the MIDI sequence can be easily used to create other instrument performances. For instance here’s a slightly slower version on harpsichord:

Now I just need to give some thought on where I’m going to go with this. Perhaps this musical box intro is a good start…

Or maybe this choral arrangement…

That’s the great thing about recording music as a MIDI file rather than as audio – unprecedented flexibility to modify and adjust your musical arrangement downstream. MIDI files take up much less hard disk space than .wav and .mp3 audio files too.

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