About Us – A Potted History
Muriel Johnstone has earned a reputation as one of the finest musicians currently playing for Scottish Dance, both as a solo performer and with other musicians. She has rightly been described as ‘A Keeper of Scottish Tradition’.
Because her mother Dorothy, (Dodo) played for dancing, Muriel believes that the her musical induction began before she was born!! Muriel began playing the piano at the age of seven, dancing when she was eight. She has played for dancing since 1965, played at RSCDS Summer School since 1975, arranged the music for the Society’s books from Book 28 to Book 41, started “Scotscores” in 1984 and traveled the world since 1988. She has never lost her enthusiasm for the music and the dance of her native Scotland.
Muriel’s work in the field of traditional Scottish music has taken her all over Europe, to the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Africa. Demand for her expertise for workshops, dances and concerts is worldwide.
During her career Muriel has had many wonderful musical liaisons since her first band gig with Bobby Crowe in 1975. These include Angus Fitchet, Marian Anderson, Judith Linton, Gordon Smith, Iain Fraser, Chris Duncan, Cathy Fraser, Calum MacKinnon, Keith Smith and of course the legendary Alasdair Fraser.
To date Muriel has released 30 CDs on her own “Scotscores” label (and has appeared on many other recordings) including five volumes of Dancing Fingers – a unique sound of piano and bass playing a mixture of dance and listening tracks. The music is all composed by Muriel herself. Some of the earlier recordings, Dance Through the Miscellanies and music for many of the dances of Mary Isdale MacNab have now been taken over by the R.S.C.D.S.
One of Muriel’s strengths and joys is providing sympathetic accompaniment for other musicians. This is heard to fine effect on Sandy Ower the Sea – with Australian fiddler Chris Duncan and North of the Tweed – a selection of music associated with the Scottish Borders, played together with Marian Anderson (accordion) and Judith Linton (fiddle). Her first recording with Keith Smith was Cairngorms – a live recording from the Cairngorms Ball in London. Muriel and Keith are now established worldwide as the finest duo providing music in the genre.
A long-standing association with Roy Goldring resulted in three CD’s of Roy’s ever-popular dances, Haste Ye Back, 15 Social Dances and Vintage Goldring. Another CD, Reel On, with the music for Roy’s final book, Graded and Social 3, is also available from the shop. The set is completed with a compilation of Roy’s leaflet dances – 59 in all.
Muriel has had a long association with the Society as a dancer, teacher, arranger of music, and subsequently as Musical Director. Her band recorded the music for Books 24 & 38 for the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society. Dancing Live was recorded at Blair Castle and Doncaster during the 75th celebrations of the Society. In 2002, the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society recognized her service by awarding her the Society’s Scroll of Honour.
As a prolific composer, Muriel has composed tunes for many dances and for some hundreds of people in the Scottish music and dance world. She is not sure herself, but at the latest guesstimate she had around 1200 compositions, many as yet unpublished ~ ~ ~ but watch this space.
She considers herself to be one of the lucky ones having a career doing something she absolutely loves.
Although music takes up a large slice of life, there is still time for the other loves in Muriel’s life – the family, including grandchildren ‘Elliot’, younger brother ‘Lewis’ and granddaughter ‘Imogen’; playing golf, cooking, reading and gardening! Muriel and Bill are currently staying in the Borders in Scotland. This is a temporary move until they find a suitable house with a ‘piano’ room.
Here are just a few unforgettable highlights:
Her first try at reading chord symbols on stage in the Younger Hall, St. Andrews, 1975
Earlier in the pub Bobby Crowe (Band leader) asks: “Can you read the dots?”
Muriel replies: “I don’t know but I’ll give it a go!”
This led to Muriel becoming a full time member of Bobby’s band!
“An Hour with Muriel Johnstone”
Old Parliament House – Canberra, Australia.
A panic attack, an overdose of adrenaline, then an incredible hour of music and talking to a packed ‘house of parliament’!
Presentation of the Society Scroll
Prior to the Jeannie Carmichael Ball – The Thayer Hotel, West Point, NY.
Overwhelming speeches. Absolute joy to have all her children present. Playing for the Ball with Keith.
Strange and wondrous piano-shaped objects that resolutely refuse to help her sound like the person she’s supposed to be!
Concert of Scottish Music – Alasdair Fraser & Muriel Johnstone
Backstage in a theatre – Minneapolis, MN.
Meeting Alasdair Fraser for the first time in the afternoon to prepare for a concert. Virtually no rehearsal, absolutely no music. In the wings, Muriel spots a fire bucket and wonders if she has time to throw up before they finish announcing “….. and please welcome to the stage, Muriel Johnstone”. Not to worry! One of the most exhilarating evenings, leading to a great friendship.