We are friends who
have come together to share our love of Celtic music among ourselves,
and with others. We sing in the languages of Scotland, Ireland, Wales,
Brittany, Cornwall and the Isle of Man. We have a special feeling for
those beautifully worded songs and poems whose tunes have been lostthere
are so many. We also enjoy songs which have been carried on in traditional
form to the present day. Sometimes we sing them solo, in the manner
most often used today by traditional singers who have inherited them;
sometimes we sing them in unison, following the traditional rhythm;
most of the time we can’t help but add harmoniesthat is part of
our own tradition.
Celtic songs have
proven to have great vitality and so the same songs have been sung for
hundreds if not thousands of years. This naturally results in variation
of the tune, and words, from age to age and place to place. Sometimes
we incorporate several variations of a tune into one song, for example
singing some verses in the sean-nós style, and others in the exuberant
rhythms of an early American hymn which that sean-nós tune has inspired.
For people interested
in the idea of song categories, there are many that can be assignedand
we are still discovering new ones. They are the categories shared by
all cultureschildren’s songs, working songs, love songs, story
songs, lullabies, religious songs both pre-Christian and Christian,
tributes, laments, and songs for the dead. It is when we look more closely
inside these categories that we are able to see the distinct characteristics
of Celtic life. For example, among the work songs we find verses for
rowing, churning, waulking (fulling cloth), grinding grain, plowing
and blacksmithing. In religious songs we find pre-Christian charms,
pre-Christian charms with Christian elements added on, Christian songs
which were composed in the manner of the original charms, and Christian
songs composed in Irish but in the manner of the foreign Christian priests.
Another aspect of
our group is our effort to concentrate on songs that are not currently
being sung, have not been recorded recently, or are very little known.
Once in awhile we will do a tune which is widely sung, such as “Sally
Gardens," though we have restored Gaelic words to it. The temptation
is to do popular Gaelic songs, if these can be referred to as such,
but there are so many beautiful songs that are buried in books and not
accessible to many, or not easily. This is what we love to dobring
these dusty hidden songs out for people to enjoy and learn.
idea of concentrating on songs not otherwise being sung much leads into
our philosophy behind singing only in the Celtic languages. While there
are a great many beautiful songs sung in English in the Celtic manner,
these tend to be much more widely recorded and otherwise accessible
to the public.
We sing in the Celtic languages to bring people songs that would not
otherwise be heard, and in languages in which many have an interest
but few have an opportunity to hear or learn. We do not “avoid" English
songsit is simply that English songs are part of a different tradition.
We do not “avoid singing a few songs in English" any more than a concert
pianist “avoids playing a few pieces on flute" during his piano recital,
even if he happens to know how to play the flute. We make this point
only because we have been asked many times to explain our lack of English
songsmost often by those who simply wish they could better understand
the songswho love the music but long to understand the meaning.
We definitely want people to be able to understand the songsin
many cases, the lyrics were composed hundreds of years ago by poets
whose training was so rigorous, and their art so refined, that we truly
have no literary equivalent to the profession today. This is another
reason for singing them in the original languages, for it is the intricate
and complex rhyming of the syllables which renders the sounds of the
verses so pleasing to the ear and so fitting to the tune. It would be
folly to attempt to “translate" this. So, sharing the meaning with the
audience has been a challenge to us, though a pleasant one. We tell
the stories woven in and around the songs, and make translations available
in the booklet accompanying cd. In this way, the audience is able to
enjoy the beauty of the original language and understand the story as
well. This is also in keeping with our desire to share this music with
the audience and not simply “perform" it, for traditional music, unlike
many other genres, belongs to all.