Gaelic Song and Music
Sir, I have heard many addresses by chairman at Gaelic concerts, but it has not been my lot to hear so much that was to the point, independently spoken, and in so small a compass, as I heard from the list of Captain Campbell, yr of Succoth at the recent concert of the Glasgow Gaelic Musical Association. He surmises that the traditional style has been conflicting with pure music in some small points when the singer was being taught and he feels that we have a national style of singing. I would hardly put these statements in the form he has put them; but I fancy those of us who interest ourselves in Gaelic song and music know what he is driving at. The traditional style is, unfortunately, exercised by indifferent exponents, and the term, owing to its association with rusticity, is apt to mislead many people. It may be accepted that the main effort of the traditional style of delivery was directed towards voicing the words in the clearest manner with due regard to measure and expression. This entails distinct utterance; and distinct utterance requires natural voice.
These are the essentials of traditional style. The professional style of to-day is against natural voice and elocutionary delivery. It makes the singer an instrument. The musically uneducated Gael feels when fitting delivery is being given to a song. His interest is centred on the words, and is repelled if these are clouded by unnatural use of the voice to produce certain qualities of tone, which, though fashionable, are not always desirable. On the other hand, those who regard as authoritative the professional style of their time are prone to forsake natural utterance, and go after the fashion, losing at the same time the power to recognise true Gaelic style or its absence. This can be put in a number of ways, but the clearest indication I can produce in support of my view is that the song “Suas leis a’ Ghaidhlig” can be used without protest as a rallying song for the Association which makes the greatest pretense of promoting Gaelic song and music and their style, as a matter of course. That song and its air are as innocent of Gaelic style as a duck is of gracefulness in walking. And just as a duck seems gracefully enough on water, so “Suas leis a’ Ghaidhlig” in a setting which appeals to the English music-hall taste of the degaelicised section of our people, may–nay does–seem quite right and proper.
Varieties of Song and Music
Captain Campbell said we had two types of singing which were absolutely peculiar to us as Highlanders. He might have gone further and included a few others, particularly the work-song. Other countries have work-songs. So, too, other countries have Orain-Mhora. But our work-songs and Orain-Mhora and others have characters peculiar to themselves. Those others, under professional and fashionable alien influence, have gone almost out of use. All are varieties of song and music need to be kept in evidence to prevent us from wandering into one group like the Lowlanders of Scotland whose song has great variety of theme and an unparalleled excellence in the presentation of its themes; but whose music is almost of one class.
The Oran Mor and work song, if more cultivated, would lead back to Gaelic style. An Oran Mor singer may not neglect clarity of utterance or expression. A work-song singer and a Port-a-beul singer must have freedom of utterance, and due regard to time and rhythm. The one great drawback to those classes of song is that their themes are mostly out of date. The new generations, while holding onto tradition, more or less, are not satisfied entirely by it, and want subjects relating to their own epoch. And, whether they want them or not, I contend that they need them. But, beyond the Oran Mor, which Captain Campbell heard at Inverness, whose words and music are quite modern, what can An Comunn Gaidhealach give us that is new? Its policy has for a long time been to discourage new creations, and the history of the Inverness Mod’s Oran Mor is proof positive of my statement. It would greatly clarify Captain Campbell’s Gaelic outlook if he were to get up the history of that one musical item. For next Mod, An Comunn Gaidhealach has given us the dullest Oran Mor they could by research discover. The theme is politically and religiously disconcerting–to say the least–and certainly opposed to cohesion of race. There is nothing in words or music to make a singer put forth his best effort. –I am, etc.,