Tradition Essay

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In this essay I am going to discuss tradition and what the word traditional means. Tradition is very individual, that is to say, everybody interprets their own tradition differently even if they are a part of the same tradition. It is due to this that tradition is able to evolve with each individual who takes a part in it. I have done research into tradition through reading academic reports and also by conducting my own survey; in order to try and come to a conclusion as to what tradition is.

Tradition cannot be summed up in a single thing, as everybody has their own thoughts on what tradition is. Gary West wrote that ‘There is no universal agreement on what ‘tradition’ actually is’ (West, 2012, p16). I agree with this as it is not one single thing that makes a tradition it is the combination of many different parts coming together that makes different traditions.

‘Tradition and creativity have become an uneasy pair between which opposition and dependency never resolve’ (Ben-Amos, 1984, p113). I disagree with this statement as many if not most traditions have some form of art connected to them whether it be music, dance, painting, or poetry. To have art connected to a tradition, therefore, relies on creativity to produce art connected to a tradition. All art has drawn inspiration from somewhere which in turn will connect it to a tradition. I believe creativity and tradition work hand in hand, as tradition is forever evolving into something new to survive and maintain/grow its outreach.

Noyes likens tradition to a ‘transaction’ when he wrote ‘tradition as a communicative transaction often turns to more apparently objective terms such as “transmission”’ (Noyes, D, 237). This I agree is one of the major aspects of tradition. Transmission of things such as songs, dance, and recipes are very important to tradition, and without them, tradition would not exist as it could not be passed on and left to be able to continue.

Glassie defines tradition as ‘tradition is the means deriving the future from the past (Glassie, H, 1995, p409). I feel that this is not true, as I believe if this were true there would be no room for tradition to grow and evolve. However, I do agree that tradition is a way of connecting the future to the past, as everything that is done today is in some way related to something done in the past.

Hendry wrote that when creating traditional music ‘not to lose sight of the ‘traditional elements’’ (Hendry, L, 2018, p12). This begs the question of at what point one has to stop calling their music traditional. Hendry believes that it is not traditional once the ‘traditional elements’ are obscured. However, this is not entirely true as you can have other genres of music using very ‘traditional elements that are very obvious but that do not make that specific piece of music traditional.

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When conducting my survey, I asked ‘What does tradition mean to you?’. The majority of responses were very similar, saying that tradition is something that is passed down from one generation to another; linking the past to the present. However, this is not to say that tradition does not change, as each generation that learns the traditions changes it and evolves it into something more related to them. From the responses I received this was very important that tradition is never stationary and that it is forever changing making it more accessible for different people. From the responses I got, they also made the point of tradition being local to certain people and that where you are brought up has a massive effect on your traditions. I agree that tradition is the music, language, and culture from the roots of your community, but this is not to say that that tradition and all that it encompasses are exclusive to the people of that community. As people from elsewhere may learn of a tradition and it may resonate with them better than their own local traditions, therefore, they may wish to learn and take part in the different traditions.

The second question on the survey was to do with the participant's personal connection to traditions. The survey asked ‘Do you associate with a tradition? If yes, which tradition and why?’. Every participant said they connected with at least one tradition and many said that they identified with multiple. ‘Some participants said they identified with the Gaelic highland culture specifically being the songs and music from the west coast of Scotland and the Outer Hebrides’, whilst others had strong connections with the traditions of pipe bands. This proves that traditions are everywhere and that they are inclusive of everyone. My survey showed that there were people from outside Scotland who were mainly associated with Scottish traditions such as music and dance. This shows traditions are open to anyone no matter where they or the tradition originates from.

The next question on the survey was ‘can traditional music have influences from other genres?’. Everybody again agrees that it can, however, some of the participants were worried that with so many different influences available in the present people may start to lose the real tradition and that it will be replaced by modern cross traditions. Others believed that the future of the tradition was to incorporate certain parts from other traditions and ethnic groups to further develop their own tradition. However, I believe that this is just the way in which traditions are evolving.

‘At what point does a piece of music stop being traditional?’, this question was quite controversial and therefore I got very contrasting opinions. Some participants were of the opinion that traditional music can only be the music that every aspect of it is traditional and others said that it is up to the musician to classify their music to a genre and therefore if that musician feels they can class it as traditional it is traditional. The majority of people had a middle-ground approach saying that it is when there are more traditional aspects to it than other genres. I believe that this is a very individual question, and everybody will come to a slightly different conclusion.

‘In your opinion is it important to continue and maintain the traditions of where you are from?’. The participants all agreed that it is important to keep the tradition alive however, many said that tradition must grow and evolve and merely maintaining the traditions is not truly enough. In agreement, they all said that all traditions should be respected however not every participant associated themselves with their local tradition and somewhere more associated with a tradition from elsewhere. I believe that this is very important to note that not everyone in the tradition is local to the place of origin for the tradition however they still identify with that tradition.

In conclusion, I believe tradition to be very individual, and that it means something different for everybody. However, through both my research and survey I can say that tradition in its basic form is something that is passed from each generation to generation which with every generation evolving and changing until it is passed on to the next generation. This, therefore, means that tradition is a way of connecting the past, present, and future together, connecting people within the same tradition, and giving them an identity.


  1. West, G., 2012. Voicing Scotland. 1st ed. Edinburgh: Luath Press Ltd.
  2. Ben-Amos, D., 1984. The Seven Strands of Tradition: Varieties in Its Meaning in American Folklore Studies. Journal of Folklore Research, 21 (4), 97-131.
  3. Noyes, D. ‘Tradition: Three Traditions’ in Journal of Folklore Research 46 (3), 233-268
  4. Glassie, H., 1995. Tradition. Journal of American Folklore, 108 (430), 395-411.
  5. Hendry, L., (2018) ‘Innovation and Integrity in the Scottish Harp Practice Understanding my place in Scottish Traditional Music. Honours year research project, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Accessible via
  6. My survey – What is Tradition? Accessible via
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