In her poem “The Emigrant Irish,” the Irish poet Eavan Boland seeks to remind us of what Irish immigrants who came to North America were made of and, more importantly, what they brought with them:
“What they survived we could not even live. / By their lights now it is time to imagine how they stood there, what they stood with, that their possessions may become our power. / Cardboard. Iron. Their hardships parceled in them. / Patience. Fortitude. Long-suffering in the bruise-coloured dusk of the New World. / And all the old songs. And nothing to lose.”
Boland’s inclusion of songs as part of an immigrant’s possessions is a testament to the importance of music in the lives of the Irish, whose traditions continue to live on in a multitude of ways. For today’s performers of Celtic music, or traditional music of Ireland and Scotland, it is a living, breathing, and singing entity that connects them with their musical forebears.
Of the many themes found in traditional Scottish song, the lament is arguably one of the most important. It has the potential to express emotions that can be summed up as sadness or melancholy, but are in reality much more complex and varied.
Laments allow us to remember those we loved and experiences we shared in places that no longer exist but in our memories and in song.
American viola da gambist Tina Chancey‘s new recording, “The Versatile Viol,” is an excellent example of how Celtic music has been taken on by early musicians. It includes traitional music as well works from the 18th Century.
The Glasgow-based ensemble Concerto Caledonia recorded a set of compositions not long ago by Katherine McGillivray, a member of the ensemble who passed away in 2006. None are technically a lament but the four works are a kind of plaintive tribute to a beloved colleague in honor of her memory.
The titles of “Katherine’s Tunes” are Carsons’ Lilt, The 4 note spell, Dr. McGuiness, and I.A. McGillivray.
A 2008 release by American vocalist Moira Smiley featured a program of Celtic and Appalachian songs—some famous and others little-known. Her recent release included two songs—Wexford Carol and Queen Jane—performed with simple accompaniment and direct expression.
A versatile artist, Moira is the leader of the quartet VOCO and a recognized specialist in medieval song.
Indianapolis Early Music Festival
The 2009 Indianapolis Early Music Festival featured a number of concerts on many themes, one of which included traditional music from Ireland, Scotland, and England. Entitled “Baroque Virtuosity & Celtic Thunder,” the program presented compositions by the 18th-century British General John Reid, who was an accomplished flute player, among other things. His fame, however, rests on the work known as “The Garb of the Old Gaul” which lives on today as the official slow march of the Scots Guards.
The performers were Chris Norman, baroque flute and small pipes, David Greenberg, octave violin, Mark Cudek, viola da gamba, and lutenist Ronn McFarlane.
We’ll stay with a Celtic theme in our featured release of the week from the Alia Vox label. Entitled “The Celtic Viol,” Jordi Savall and Andrew Lawrence King have teamed up to record an entire program devoted to the traditional music of Scotland and Ireland.