As I do every August, I have been spending the month working on new music for the choir. That is, I spend the month of August looking for and arranging music for the choir.
There’s so much Celtic music out there that I think would make great choral music, but so little of it is actually available for choir. What is out there, at least in North America, is multiple versions of old standby songs like “Molly Malone”, or “Loch Lomond” or “The Ash Grove”, or else newly composed music for religious services that’s billed as “Celtic” for little discernible reason except calling something “Celtic” sells. While I think there’s a place for the old standbys, I’m also interested in bringing little known songs from genuinely Celtic traditions to audiences here in Ottawa. How many places are you going to hear a Cornish Obby Oss song, or a Manx Halloween trick-or-treating song, or Breton Kan ha diskan, sung by a choir?
The internet has made my job easier, frankly, as I can now consult with and order from publishing houses in Wales, Scotland and Ireland. While there’s some music in the Celtic languages available in choral format via these publishers, they often assume local interest only and thus a facility with the language that my choir doesn’t have. Pronunciation guides for non-speakers are not provided.
There are also lots of great websites out there with resources, particularly for the less-well-known Celtic traditions, such as Cornish, Manx, Breton and Galician. But while there are lots of songs available, they don’t always come available for choir.
Thus, comes my month of arranging, tweaking and clarifying choral music in the Celtic languages for my choir. I’m currently working on some Welsh carols, both plygain (a style of Christmas hymn sung after Midnight services on Christmas Day, between 3 and 6 am) and regular Christmas carols. My version has the pronunciation guide embedded straight into the sheet music, so that non-Welsh speakers can get their tongues around the lyrics.
I’m also working on a choral version of a Cornish song, Naw Map Harth (Nine Brave Boys), as well as a choral arrangement of a song in Scots Gaidhlig called Blasad nan Deur (Tasting the Tears), recently composed for Struileag (Shore to Shore). I’m particularly excited by the last one, as this one will take me out of the traditional Celtic sounds and into a more modern style.
I won’t be winning any awards for spectacular choral arranging any time soon, but with any luck, this work will help make Celtic language song more accessible, particularly for non-speakers!