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DESKRY SHIEL. Scottish, Reel. E Minor. Deskry Shiel was a mansion in the parish of Logie-Coldstone, in south-west Aberdeenshire. There was a shooting lodge of Deskry Shiel on the eastern side of the valley of the River Deskry, which, in 1875, stood in a clump of stunted firs and larch trees. The parish borders the Aberdeenshire Highlands.
The reel was composed by Alexander Walker, born in Rhynie, Strathbogie, Aberdeenshire in 1819. Walker was an inventor (of surveying instruments, for example), agriculturalist, fiddler and composer of works collected in a volume published in Aberdeen in 1866. He was employed as a gardener for Sir Charles Forbes at Castle Newe, who was also his patron. While in Scotland he took a wife, Jean (11 years his junior), and at age 40 became father of a daughter, Maggie, followed by three sons (Charles, Alexander and George—Charles perhaps named after Sir Charles Forbes), After the American Civil War, probably around 1870, Walker emigrated to the United States, and settled near Williamstown, Massachusetts, where family (parents) had previously settled, and established a prosperous farm of his own. He and Jean had a daughter in America, Jeosie, born in New York in 1872. In the 1880 census for Williamstown his occupation is listed as a “surveyor and gardener,” while Jean “kept house” and “farmed”. Alexander also continued to compose music (according to Paul Cranford, who has found evidence he mailed compositions home to Aberdeenshire) although his American output is now lost. He is recorded as having helped survey areas of Williamstown in 1892 (at age 73), where it was noted that he was “a Scotch surveyor of some attainments and reputation”, and he lived to see the 20th century. This passage (from Arthur Latham Perry's Origins in Williamstown: A History, 1894, p. 28 ) is thought to refer to him:
...but the Berlin road goes past pretty good farms, and the last one (the old toll-gate farm) became noted for its productiveness under the ownership of Alexander Walker and his family, canny Scotch people from Aberdeenshire; the parents married there Aug. 6, 1856. Mr. Walker could handle the fiddle bow and the surveyor's instruments with about equal facility; but as the lines fell to him in this country in prosy times and non-piping localities, the Scotch reels and strathspeys, of which he was a master and even a successful composer and publisher, slumbered for the most part on the bridge of his fiddles, of which he invented and perhaps patented a prized improvement. Nevertheless, his residence at the head of the gorge, where the Fosters had lived for three generations, threw a sort of halo of music and good cheer up and down the valley, and proved to many persons a kind of subtle attraction not only for the Pass by Mount Hopkins beyond it.
Source for notated version:
Printed sources: Walker (A Collection of Strathspeys, Reels, Marches, &c.), 1866; No. 129, p. 44.