The Power of Song as the Voice of the People


  • Margaret Bennett The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland


There are few political speeches that effectively match the power of a song in keeping alive issues of social justice or freedom. In the seventeenth century, Scottish politician Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun proclaimed: ‘If a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation.’i As in Fletcher’s day, there is no telling if a song of protest will bring about change – nevertheless, it is still the most powerful tool to give voice to those with enough conviction to take a stand. Of equal importance, songs are our most harmonious and peaceful ‘weapons’, effective outside the context of conflict as well as on the picket line or demonstration.

Author Biography

Margaret Bennett, The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Margaret Bennett, Scottish singer, folklorist, and writer, was brought up in a family of tradition bearers, Gaelic on her mother’s side and Scots on her father’s. She has an MA in folklore from Newfoundland and a PhD in ethnology from University of Edinburgh, where she also lectured for more than a decade. She currently teaches part-time at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and also sings, tells stories, and lectures on both sides of the Atlantic. A prize-winning author, Margaret has written ten books and contributions to over thirty others. Her symposium presentation will be illustrated by excerpts from her newest book (with CD): Jerome – Just One More Song! Local, Social and Political History in the Repertoire of a Newfoundland-Irish Singer. Margaret has received several awards for her contribution to Celtic music and culture, including an Honorary Doctor of Music in Glasgow (2011) and was recently appointed as Honorary Professor of Folklore of the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh (2012). She has recorded several CDs and has featured on radio and TV. She is also known for collaborations with her son, the late Martyn Bennett, featuring in theatre and film, including world-acclaimed play, The Black Watch. She also plays a role and sings in a new feature film about traditional song, Blackbird, premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival, 2013. The late Hamish Henderson wrote, “Margaret embodies the spirit of Scotland.”