REVIEW FROM www.livingtradition.co.uk
VOLUME 1 - Gaelic Psalms From The Hebrides Of Scotland Ridge
To begin I quote
from Finlay J. MacDonald's writings about his life on Harris between the
two World Wars (Crotal And White, 1983): "The precentor 'gave out' each
line of psalm, and the congregation chanted it with him when he repeated
it, with the few who could claim good voices grace-noting the musical
lines. There are few more moving experiences than being in among a large
Gaelic congregation singing in the traditional manner with soul and feeling.
It is more than moving; it is unforgettable in the depths of one's being."
Those sentiments express this music perfectly - this is a deeply significant
recording of around 500 members of the Back Free Church, Lewis - it is
of profound interest to anyone interested in (ethno) musicology or in
the preservation of Gaelic culture (and language). I would strongly recommend
the listener to watch the enhanced CD presentation before listening. In
Calum Martin's words (he produced this album, and is himself an elder
of the Presbyterian church) it captures 'one of the most unique musical
forms to be found anywhere in the world'. He seems to have realised a
personal dream in getting this recording made. The 12 Psalms are deeply
spiritual, and were recorded without any rehearsal. Calum Malcolm produced
My feeling upon listening (and especially from watching the video presentation)
is that to witness this style of singing must be an overwhelming and unforgettable
experience. There's a powerful emotional 'pull' in the precentor's 'call',
and a unifying, moving harmony in the massed response. This very special
form of singing has become the subject of debate in recent years. Willie
Ruff, a Yale music professor and respected jazz musician, has proposed
that black gospel music emerged from this Scottish Presbyterian tradition.
He is convinced that the tradition followed Scottish émigrés to the US,
and found its way into the vocal techniques of that country's great soul
singers. There are still similarities with the singing style of Ethiopia's
Coptic Church, but Ruff's is an interesting theory! Another noteworthy
fact is that precenting was common across the whole of the UK following
the Reformation, but is now confined solely to the Western Isles.
All the proceeds from this recording go to The Bethesda Home and Hospice,
Stornoway, Lewis. I understand work is underway to record a second volume.
You would file this CD under 'treasured historical archive' - it defies
categorisation. It has been a pleasure to review.