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degree courses, may have been is under the musical directorship way Gaelic is treated within those unsuspecting audiences were
successful in teaching all ages of renowned piper/flautist/ modern settings that makes the being hoodwinked (though
how to play and sing, but there producer Iain MacDonald of difference.’ Margaret can never be accused
is a lot of other knowledge that Glenuig and focuses, although not of remaining silent on this
the traditional performer needs exclusively, on the very real and So what is it about the treatment fundamental issue that causes her
to be equipped with. I think they strong links between Hebridean of Gaelic song that irks Margaret such personal difficulty). ‘I have
should be taught about who has Gaelic song and the music and and many of her fellow Gaelic no authority to set myself up as
come before them and whose song of Cape Breton. Since ‘tradition bearers?’ Margaret an expert or spokesperson on any
shoes they are filling, be taught its inception some of the best clearly feels that not all who come subject and I certainly wouldn’t
the nuances of their own regional traditional dancers, musicians to Gaelic song are cutting the want to be thought of as such.
and singing styles, educated in and singers from Scotland and proverbial mustard. The answer These opinions are opinions
correct stressing and phrasing, be Cape Breton have been brought seems to lie in the fact that they that are shared by many, but of
encouraged to learn more about together to explore, identify and feel that some of the practitioners course none of us would wish to
a song that just the words; the strengthen those links for a week of those songs do not appear hurt anyone’s feelings or prevent
history or story behind a tune/
song and the composer. They
‘My first days at school are a bit of a blur, but I vividly remember being
should also be taught to treat
older performers with respect,
immersed in a strange world the minute I walked through the classroom
whether they feel their material is
no longer trendy or not, and above
doors – none of the adults spoke the same language as me; at five years
all they should be taught that
even if they are talented, they still
old the only language I knew was ignored and not given any status.’
need to serve an apprenticeship.
Too many are launched into
professional careers before they in the Gaelic heartland of South to be proficient enough in the them from taking an interest in our
have enough experience or are Uist.’ language to take on the task, or language and songs. One can try
musically, or in the case of Gaelic are attempting to handle songs to advise as politely as possible
song, linguistically ready for it.’ ‘It may just be that we’re missing that they are not equipped to sing, but there’s only so much you can
Margaret avoids many of the true folk audiences in Scotland. either linguistically or musically. do if people think they know it all
bigger festivals because she has A lot are looking for the highly The effect upon the Gaelic ear or know better. The traditional
found that she just doesn’t seem publicised names and I often is apparently akin to nails being songs of any culture should be
to fit in. ‘I see now that most feel that there’s no place for a scratched down a blackboard, treated very carefully by novices,
festivals look at me as merely a musician like me at some of especially when songs are taken even when they have reached
solo Gaelic singer, rather than the bigger events, that I’m very out of their traditional style and, high levels of linguistic proficiency;
a singer who also comes with a much on the margins; not trendy as Margaret describes it, ‘treated authentic delivery relies very
fine band of musicians behind enough or young enough or to the newcomer’s imagined much on style, usually nurtured
her, some of the best in Gaeldom. that I haven’t got the right image ‘improvement’ of a musical from childhood, natural, fluid and
There are very few opportunities for the festival organisers.’ I genre,’ not perhaps having the convincing and of course the
for a solo - particularly an a- reminded Margaret that her same sensitivity to the beauty, language rhythms should never,
capella - singer in any language, programming of the Lewis & complexity and value they hold for ever be distorted to fit in with the
and in order to hold the attention Harris Night at Celtic Connections the indigenous people. Margaret melody line – the language is what
of an audience outside one’s own 2008 was indeed very trendy, in explained further: ‘When words makes the song! But that is only
linguistic area one has to provide particular her decision to include and internal rhyme are altered, a part of it - a good, authentic and
something for the audience to Iain Morrison and the Sleepy where words are tweaked and convincing traditional singer takes
relate to.’ Café Band alongside Margaret squeezed and clipped to fit a a lifetime to learn their craft: one
herself, Christine Primrose and into a strict and ‘alien’ rhythm, never actually arrives, one is on
My own view is that for her to Jenna Cumming. She was when the natural rhythms of the an endless journey, learning and
speak up like this is courageous self-deprecatory: ‘I just gave a language are being ignored in refining until the day one dies.’
because in so doing, she representative cross-section of favour of the melody line, all
potentially damages her career what people could expect from the beautiful nuances are being So, whilst Margaret is regarded
prospects. She is acutely aware the musicians of our island. destroyed in favour of what is by some in the folk scene as
that if she is seen to criticise, There were many Gaels in the perceived as being ‘better’, and being a purist, unbending in
her chances of getting booked audience who came up to me often the meanings of words are her views, I’m now inclined to
are probably limited: ‘I feel that after the performance and said changed in the process.’ believe, having enjoyed many
festival organisers could be “oh, I wasn’t sure about that bit at robust and stimulating debates
celebrating the best of our culture all”, others said “oh I didn’t think I told Margaret something with her over the past couple
and presenting it to audiences.’ I was going to like it at first, but Derbyshire singer-fiddler Bella of years, that she simply wants
She readily acknowledges the it grew on me”. Iain of course Hardy recently said to me: ‘I the tradition into which she was
need for festivals to have the ‘big has performed with Crash My don’t sing foreign songs, they born, the song tradition she
names,’ sees the importance of Model Car at Glastonbury and is don’t belong to me.’ Is this loves, to be respected by all
bringing them to more remote to appear at this year’s Hebridean something Margaret empathised who wish to present them to the
communities who wouldn’t get the Celtic Festival. I’m very pleased with in respect of non-speakers’ outside world. There’s a lot of
chance to see them otherwise. that we included them and they treatment of Gaelic songs? mystique surrounding Scottish
And she also accepts the need were pleased to have been asked Margaret indicated that those Gaelic song. The unwary, non-
to attract audiences. But she – and pleased to perform with words could have come out of her Gaelic speaking listener, for
also notices that a fair few of her ‘traditional’ singers! Iain and his own mouth. ‘I know there’s great instance (and I fall square into
friends both inside and outwith friends know exactly where their anxiety about the state of our that category), doesn’t have a
the traditional music community music and influences came from, language, and that it should be clue which performers are native
aren’t so attracted by so many of and in that performance they used seen to be thriving and flourishing, speakers, who the novices are, or
the bigger festivals these days. the language, and elements of particularly amongst the young, which ones are truly holding the
Perhaps they are just too big and Gaelic, in a very modern way. I but why should mediocrity be traditional banner, and it’s only
impersonal and more about the don’t have a problem with that accepted where once thrived after years of listening to a wide
‘idea’ rather than the ‘reality’ of at all. I don’t think people who eloquence and excellence? and much truer representation of
traditional music? ‘Ceòlas Music think I’m against use of Gaelic the genre that you start to get a
and Dance Summer School, in modern settings can really I asked Margaret why she and real ‘feel’ for it. It helped my own
although mainly a summer school, understand me, because that’s her Gaelic peers didn’t speak understanding to try to imagine
also features as a mini-festival. It just not the case at all; it’s the up even louder if they felt that a non English speaker coming to
The Living Tradition - Page 20
Issue80.indd 20 14/7/08 14:48:54
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