OT: 3 May 1924 – Dugald “Gaelic Song and Music”

The Oban Times, 3 May, 1924

Gaelic Song and Music

26th April, 1924

Sir,–I read with interest Mr. MacPharlain’s letter in your issue of the 19th inst., and also the two letters in to-day’s issue. Mister MacPharlain wrote, “All our 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.”

Now, this threatening danger to-day and we should be watchful lest Gaelic song with its variety of theme should become a song of one class. Some of our Orain Mhora are old, but whether old or modern they should be a distinct class and sung in the traditional way as distinct from the lyric, puirt-a-beul, etc.

The Comunn, I believe, are doing their best, but it is not so easy to get judges competent both in orain mhor and lyrics. The Gaelic lyrics are more or less in the same class as Lowland songs, which, as a rule, have a distinct Celtic flavour, but to be a competent judge in Orain mhor, I should say, would require a native Gaelic speaker combined, of course, with the necessary musical ability. Gaelic is so intertwined with its music that in this particular class one would need to be a master of the original words and understand the theme to which the air is set.

Orain Mhor in Gaelic song might probably be classed somewhat as piobaireachd in pipe music, and it is difficult for the average Celt to understand how one unversed in MacCrimmon’s language can play the music of MacCrimmon’s soul as it ought to be played, even with the musical score before him. A certain latitude ought, in my opinion, to be given to singers in this class who if they truly understand the theme should not be too critically dealt with if they do not exactly follow in every detail the cold musical score as it is written.

The subject is not an easy one, and for those of us who wish to keep Gaelic song running pure in its natural channel let us beware of the school of modernity, which through blissful ignorance of Gaelic is shaping, though it may be quite unconsciously, all our Gaelic songs into one class. –I am, etc.,