|Kist o Riches @ New York Public Library|
|Kist o Riches audio tour of Scotland|
(click for bigger map)
At this point we ventured into the Eastern Highlands and stopped off at Glenlivet to hear from a remarkable woman named Annie Grant. Known locally as 'Grannie Bochel', she had been born in 1854 and was aged 102 when Hamish called to record her. Grannie Bochel recited a verse she had composed in 1874 when she first came to Glenlivet, and the audience learned about a 27-verse ballad that she later recited for Hamish - the most complete version ever recorded. Leaving the Highlands behind, we headed far up north to Caithness, to hear Donald Grant of Thurso recall the local customs for protecting a newborn baby from the fairies, who would sometimes try to kidnap a child and replace it with a changeling.
Leaving the mainland for a time, we journeyed to the Northern Isles, where John MacKay of Stronsay in Orkney delivered some fine fiddling with the pipe march The Lochaber Gathering. Celebrated fiddler and collector Tom Anderson of Shetland then demonstrated for us the Scandinavian influence on local musical traditions, with the haunting lament 'Auld Swaara' evoking the Norwegian fiddling tradition. The Scandinavian heritage of Shetland was likewise echoed in the Norn refrain of the classic ballad 'King Orfeo', a truly wonderful mix of Scots, Celtic and Norse traditions, ultimately deriving its happy ending for the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice from early Antiquity.
Crossing over to the Western Isles and the heart of the Gàidhealtachd, we were met with a spirited rendition of the waulking song 'Tha Fadachd Orm Fhìn a Rìgh', led by Christine Shaw of Ardhasaig on Harris. Moving south along the archipelago, we came to Sollas on North Uist, where Rev. William Matheson sang for us the first Gaelic song composed in America, 'Dèan Cadalan Sàmhach a Chuilein Mo Rùin'. The song was composed by a Kintyre emigrant named John MacRae ('The Bard of Kintail'), who in the song lulls his baby daughter to sleep in their new home of North Carolina. A short hop over to Skye took us to the Free Presbyterian Church in Portree, where the congregation demonstrated the magical Gaelic Psalm Singing that stands as a rare Western example of surviving heterophonic music. There was a connection here with North Carolina again, in the possible direct influence of the Gaelic Psalm Singing tradition on the spiritual music of black congregations in the southern USA.
Working our way down the west coast, we arrived at Tobermory on Mull, where Pipe Major William MacLean gave a wonderful demonstration of the complex vocable system known as canntaireachd, used as an oral method of teaching the classical bagpipe music called pìobaireachd. In a marvellous performance, PM MacLean set out the elements in canntaireachd for the thrilling pìobaireachd called 'The Desperate Battle of the Birds', and then played the piece on the pipes, showing how well canntaireachd emulates the notes, intervals and ornaments of the pipes.
Heading south to the Kintyre peninsula, we met a family of singers and song collectors called the the Mitchells of Campbeltown, who shared with us one of the local songs they had so diligently collected: 'Callieburn' is a song of emigration in which the singer is leaving his native Kintyre for America, which has 'beguiled' him. The song itself beguiles the listener, as it did Willie Scott of Canonbie, who was so taken with the song when he met the MItchells in 1968, that it became one of his favourite and most often sung pieces. Willie's byname was 'The Border Shepherd', and shepherding was his lifelong profession. We joined Willie at Canonbie in the Borders for a wonderful performance of his song 'The Irthing Water Hounds', which praises the hunting dogs of the River Irthing, just over the border into England.
|The Stewarts of Blair|
Well - there'll be plenty of time to make up for that in future posts...
Acknowledgements and thanks:
I'd like to thank New York Public Library, The Folk Music Society of New York, The Traditional Singers Club of the Twin Cities and The Celtic Junction for hosting these recent events.
Special thanks to my colleague in Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches, renowned Gaelic singer Maighread Stiùbhart, for her assistance in selecting the Gaelic tracks for the lectures.
All images public domain, except for the photo of Kist o Riches at New York Public Library (copyright of Chris Wright) and the photos of women waulking cloth and of the Stewarts of Blair (copyright of School of Scottish Studies / Kist o Riches)