SONGS OF THE EARTH 大地之歌
Sundays at 12nn 星期日正午
Host: Colin Touchin 杜程
Over 13 weekly programmes, beginning 7 June 2020, I will be calling in at several Celtic countries, as we did last year, to explore more of the many voices and instruments that express so well the joy and sorrow, legend and history, and spirit and character of Celtic peoples around the globe. We’ll spend a little more time in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales than in the other regions ― Brittany & Galicia in France and Spain respectively, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, Scandinavia and Nova Scotia in North America ― celebrating their deep and ever-growing traditions of laments, ballads, reels and jigs, carols, choirs, and dances.
For the signature tune, we will hear the Scottish singer Ishbel MacAskill singing Thig an smeòrach as t-Earrach (The Thrush Will Come in Spring) with clarsach (harp) accompaniment. She was one of the great natural folk artists and didn’t sing in public until she was 38 years old; she was often referred to as the Gaelic diva. This song offers advice to young women to choose their husband wisely: “don’t be taken in by the Cuckoo who Will Come in May!” It has a haunting quality with a modal inflection towards the end of each verse that typifies the unexpected charm of the musical language.
(Just to clear up any mystery ― when the word Gaelic is used of Scottish heritage, the pronunciation is Gah-lic or perhaps Gallic, but when Irish lineage is involved, they say it more like Gay-lic. I’ll mention more about the languages of the Celtic countries in the next article.)
This series will settle around some of the major Celtic Festivals, and will showcase some of the native singers protecting and reviving the ancient Celtic languages (such as Kernowek from Cornwall), as well as compare the various types of pipes, fiddles, guitars, harps and other instruments that accompany the balladeers or lead the dances around the fire, in the pub, and on the village green.
Music for a Purpose
Community is at the heart of all the music of these countries. Songs almost always have a powerful and invaluable purpose ― some to train the young, the equivalent of nursery songs and childhood singing games, and others educate all in the history of their clans and families by retelling tales of yore, keeping alive the exploits of heroes and villains past as much to revel in sometimes gory history as to learn from history itself.
Festivals are essential to communities, derived not only from religious calendars and considerations (both pagan, such as Solstice, and sacred, such as Christmas and Easter) but also developed to celebrate annually. Some come, perhaps, for the sheer fun of it or perhaps through some now-forgotten habit that once seemed important , such as, for example, Furry Day Parades in Cornwall, or Festas, often associated with food, in Galicia.
A World of Celebration
We have inherited elements from so many different calendars that began so many centuries ago; we equally celebrate festivities such as Autumn and Spring Equinoxes, Winter and Summer Solstices, harvest festival, bonfires (but not associated with a certain British Parliamentary protester in the 17th century!), Hallowe’en, and so on. The solar calendar inevitably led to observation of recurrent patterns in the sky and the weather, which, in turn, enabled local leaders to inspire their communities to pay homage to a variety of deities, some only in their near neighbourhood, some over a wider area.
So we will hear about Lughnasadh ( harvest festival), Mabon (autumn equinox), Samhain (the forerunner of Hallowe’en), Imbolc (the season of lambing), Beltane or Beltain (May Day and fertility festivals) and, of course, Yule, which pre-dates Christmas. Much of the music performed these days in Celtic festivals is of more recent creation, but nevertheless relies upon these deep historic and geographic roots.