Gaelic Song / Òrain Gàidhlig

My course at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig finished today, and I’ll be leaving tomorrow. I’ll stay at my Mum’s for a few days on the way home, and should be back in Bangor next Monday.

The course has been a lot of fun, and Joy Dunlop is a really good teacher. She’s strict about getting the pronunciation right, which is important, and uses interesting ways to describe the particular sounds of Scottish Gaelic. If we all knew phonetics and the IPA, it would be much easier.

We learnt 16 songs altogether in 5 days, which is plenty – in previous years here we’ve learnt over 30 songs in a week, which was maybe slightly too many. I like all the songs we did this time, and plan to continue singing at least some of them.

There were 16 of us in the class, although not everyone was there every day. I already knew some of the people from other courses I’ve done here, and it was nice to see them again, and to meet new people. Most were from Scotland, and other parts of the UK, plus two from Ireland, one from France and one from the Netherlands. We got on well together, and I think singing together is a great way to bond.

The class was taught mainly in English, with some bits of Scottish Gaelic now and then, and only a few of us speak much Gaelic. Outside the class I got to speak quite a bit of Gaelic with people who were studying and working here. I also spoke some French, Irish and Dutch.

Here are a few photos and videos from this year and previous years at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig:

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

This coming week I will be at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic college on the Isle of Skye, doing a course in Argyll Gaelic Song / Òrain Earra-Ghàidheal with Joy Dunlop. I think this is the eighth time I’ve been to the college, and I’m looking forward to it very much.

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

Tonight I’m staying in Glasgow, and tomorrow I’ll get the train along the West Highland Line to Mallaig, a very scenic journey, the ferry to Armadale, and then hopefully there’ll be a bus to the college.

Glasgow / Glaschu

On the train from Glasgow to Crookston, the suburb of Glasgow where I’m staying, I heard some Italian tourists talking to the guard. They didn’t seem to speak much English, and they had the wrong tickets, or they’d got on the wrong train. They asked the guard in Italian if he spoke Italian, and fortunately for them he did. It sounded to me like his Italian was very fluent, and everything was quickly sorted out. You never know when language skills might come in handy.

I haven’t heard any Scottish Gaelic yet, though I have seen it on some signs.

Slán abhaile

My week in Gleann Cholm Cille comes to an end today and I’m off to Limerick. I’ll stay there tonight, then travel back to Bangor tomorrow via train and boat.

It’s been a very enjoyable week. I learnt some new songs, met some interesting people and caught up with old friends, and got to practise various languages, especially Irish, French and Swedish.

The weather has been very variable, as it usually is here, with blue skies and sunshine one minute, and heavy rain the next.

Last night there was a great concert with John Spillane, a singer-song writer from Cork. He sang songs that most of us know, and we all joined in. He also told some very interesting and funny stories about the songs – he calls himself a song detective, or bleachtaire amhrán in Irish.

After that I went to a singing circle / coircal amhránaíochta in Carrick / An Charraig, the nearest town, with some friends.

On Thursday we were treated to an evening of sean-nós, which involved music, singing, dancing and story telling. The sean-nós class took part, as did the set dancing class, and it was great fun.

You can see photos from this year and previous years in Gleann Cholm Cille on Flickr.

I haven’t managed to do much work on Omniglot while I’ve been here, but normal service will be resumed next week.

By the way, Omniglot now lives on a new, faster and more powerful server, so hopefully there won’t be any more problems like there have been over the past few weeks.

In case you’re wondering about the title of this post, slán abhaile means “safe home” in Irish. It’s what you say to people who are leaving a place.

Echoes on the Tongue

Many years ago I went to a fascinating talk by David Crystal in Bangor University about endangered languages. One of the things he said was that a good way to spread the word about the plight of such languages might be for creative people to make art, or to write songs, stories, poems, etc about them.

Since then I’ve been thinking about writing a song about this topic, and finally got round to it a few weeks ago. Today I made a recording of it, with harp accompaniment. It’s called Echoes on the Tongue, and is written from the perspective of the words of an endangered language that has never been written down, and has only a few elderly speakers.

At the end of the recording I’ve added the phrase “we are still here” spoken in endangered languages – currently Welsh, Breton, Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx. If you can translate this phrase into other endangered languages, and ideally make a recording of it, please do. Recordings can be sent to feedback[at]omniglot[dot]com.

More news from Lowender Peran

Yesterday I learnt some Scottish step dancing with Joy Dunlop in the morning, which was a lot of fun and quite tiring, then in the afternoon there were performances from Cornish and Breton groups.

Cornish singing workshop

I also went to a Cornish shanty session with the Aggie Boys Choir, Tir Ha Tavas and Matt Blewett, and a Cornish tunes session hosted by Richard Trethewey of The Grenaways and The Rowan Tree. I didn’t know any of the tunes, but did my best to pick up bits of them. I also recorded some, and may try to learn them and introduce them to sessions in North Wales.

I even heard a few conversations in Cornish between fluent speakers, understood quite a bit of them, and even took part in a few conversations in Cornish myself. At the concert in the evening, which featured groups from Brittany, Cornwall and Wales, the introductions to the groups were in Cornish and English, and I found that I could follow quite a lot of the Cornish.

Towan Beach, Newquay

This morning I had another explore of Newquay and went down to Towan Beach, which seems to be very popular with surfers. Later today there will be more workshops in dancing and singing, readings of poetry and stories in Cornish, and more performances and dances.

Lowender Peren

This weekend I’m in Newquay in Cornwall for the Lowender Peren festival of Celtic music and dance. This is the first time I’ve been to this particular festival, but I have been to pan-Celtic festivals in the Isle of Man before. There are performers and visitors here from all the Celtic lands – Cornwall, Brittany, Wales, Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. I know quite a few of the people from the Isle of Man who are here, and a few from Scotland.

Lowender Peren

The name Lowender Peren means ‘Perran’s Mirth’ in Cornish. The word perran features in some Cornish places names, including Perranporth (Porthperan in Cornish), Perranzabuloe (Pyran yn Treth in Cornish) and Perranarworthal (Peran ar Wodhel in Cornish). It comes from Saint Piran (Peran in Cornish), a 5th century Cornish abbot who became the patron saint of tin miners, and is regarded as the patron saint of Cornwall.

The festival was offical opened last night with a speech in Cornish, and English, by a member of the Gorsedh Kernow, the Gorsedh of the Bards of Cornwall, possibly the Grand Bard herself. Gorsedh is ‘a meeting of bards’. She sounded fairly fluent, and I could actually understand some of the Cornish. I haven’t found anyone else here who speaks Cornish, apart from a few phrases.

Last night there was dancing to a local band, and then a trio of singers, members of the Lorho-Pasco family from Brittany, sang for us in Breton, and we improvised some dances. It was the first time I’d heard that style of Breton music. It works well for dancing, though I’m not sure if I’d want to listen to it for too long on its own.

I also spoke a bit of Manx with people I know from the Isle of Man, and some Scottish Gaelic with Joy Dunlop, a dancer and singer from Scotland who I know from Sabhal Mòr Ostaig.

Newquay

This morning there was an interesting talk about the history of Newquay. Then I went for a wander around the town. This afternoon we went for a guided walk around Newquay seeing some of the things that were mentioned in the talk.

There will be a lot more music, singing and dancing over the next few days. There was even a music session going on in the hotel where the festival is taking place when I went past not long ago.

Language quiz

This week the quiz is a bit different. As I’m currently at the #PolyglotGathering, I thought I’d come up with a question related to the event.

So, the question is, can you guess which of these languages has not been talked about here (in one of the talks or lectures): Ukrainian, Warlpiri, Rapa Nui, Southern Sami, Manx, Tunica, or Shanghainese.

No cheating by looking at the program now 🙂

Yesterday was a good day with some interesting talks and conversations. At the International Culutural Evening I sang a Welsh folk song (Gwcw Fach) on my own, and two songs with a few others – one in Spanish (Cielito Lindo), and one in Māori (Ngā iwi e).

Linguistic adventures

This week I have been speaking quite a bit of Irish. Even though I rarely speak it at home, it is usually there when I need it. When trying to understand songs or poems in Irish, I realise that there are plenty of gaps in my vocabulary, but I can at least get the gist of them.

On Monday night there was a little Russian-speaking corner in the pub made up of three Belarusians, a Bulgarian, and me. I was able to understand quite a bit of what the others were saying in Russian, and to join in occasionally.

Yesterday I learnt a bit about Finnish language and culture from the Finnish guy who is doing the harp course. He told me that Finns tend to be less talkative than people from other countries, but that there is a lot of non-verbal communication between them.

I have also had opportunities to speak a bit of German, and have learnt a bit about German musical terms. For example, in German musical notes are not A to G, but A to H – H refers to B, and B refers to B♭, which is slighly confusing to someone used to the English system.

Do musical notes have other names in your language, or in other languages you know?

Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

This week I am doing a course in Scottish Gaelic songs at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic college on the Isle of Skye. While all the songs I’m learning are in Gaelic, the class it taught mainly in English, so I don’t get to speak much Gaelic in class. Outside class there are plenty of opportunities to speak Gaelic with college staff and other students, who are doing courses in language, fiddle or step dancing.

This is my fifth visit to the college, and each time my Gaelic gets a bit better. I rarely speak it at home, apart from to myself, but do listen to online Gaelic radio and occasionally read things in Gaelic. I tend to mix Irish and Scottish Gaelic a bit as I know a lot more Irish, and if I don’t know how to say something in Scottish Gaelic I try it in Irish. Sometimes it works.

On the way here and in the college I’ve heard and/or spoken quite a few different languages – plenty of English and Gaelic, and also Spanish, Italian, French, Irish, Welsh, Mandarin, Japanese, Russian and German. So this is a good place to practice a variety of languages.

Scatting

Last night I saw an excellent group called Rag Mama, a duo from England who live in France and play American music, particularly blues and jazz. One of the songs they sang was Cab Calloway’s Minie the Moocher, which includes some scat singing in the chorus.

Wikipedia defines scat singing as “vocal improvisation with wordless vocables, nonsense syllables or without words at all.” It dates back probably to the early 20th century in the USA. The word scat in this context is probably of imitative origin [source].

In other musical traditions, such as in West Africa and South India, percussive rhythms can be sung and different types of drum beats are associated with particular syllables, but there is little or no improvisation.

Waulking songs (òrain luaidh) in Scottish Gaelic use meaningless syllables or vocables in their choruses, but there seems to be only a relatively small selection to choose from. I’ll be learning some waulking songs next at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic college on the Isle of Skye, where I’m doing a course in Scottish Gaelic songs. Here are some I’ve learned before.

Does anything like scat singing exist in other musical traditions?