Music from the Western Isles and beyond

At last week’s class we discussed some aspects of Gaelic Mouth Music, psalm singing and Cape Breton fiddling in relation to some of the tunes we have been learning. This quick follow-up post is to share some related links.

Gaelic psalm singing

  • For some background on this unique singing style, there is an introduction at the Education Scotland website:

    Each line of the psalm is ‘put out’ by the precentor or leader. The congregation then joins in gradually and slowly sings those words, but with varying degrees of ornamentation and at varying speeds. Although each singer is singing the same tune, the effect is of a continuous sound with different chordal effects being created. This is known as heterophony.

    Although the music sounds very complicated, the roots of the melodies being sung lie in straightforward Scottish metrical psalm tunes.

  • Gaelic psalms at Back Free Church, Isle Of Lewis- 20/21/oct/2003:
  • The clip is from the church in this recording, Salm vol 2 which the text in the link describes as:

    the congregation singing unrehearsed, unaccompanied Psalms with various precentors.

    This is traditional Gaelic psalm singing in the style of free heterophony – precentor-led singing with the congregation following through. Various precentors lead a large congregation in the most popular psalms.

  • The many field recordings at Tobar an Dualchais/ Kist o Riches website includes this anonymous recording of Salm 133.

Mouth Music

  • We have looked at music associated with Mouth Music a little before. Here’s an example in strathspey time, similar to the Bidh Eoin and the Donegal Highlands we are looking at. Air Do Shlàinte Mhàiri an Dotair is sung by Annie Arnott and was recorded by the great archivist Hamish Henderson.

Cape Breton fiddle

    • We talked about the relationship between the fiddle styles of Cape Breton, the west of Scotland and the type of swing we are trying to put into our playing as flute players. I mentioned Winston “Scotty” Fitzgerald as someone to look out for and there are some related clips on Youtube, but it can also be seen in the opening strathspey by left-handed fiddler  Kimberly Fraser  in this set, accompanied by Mark Simos on guitar.


  • Here’s a clip of Duncan Chisolm to compare, playing a strathspey followed by Scottish and Irish reels:


  • And here are some links to Donegal. First some fine fiddling from Glencolmcille. The tunes are Casey’s Pig (The Duke of Gordon’s Birthday) and Miss McLeod of Raasay:
  • Here’s a Highland being danced:


  • Here’s a clip of flute player Calum Stewart astonishing performance of James Scott Skinner’s astonishing variations on Tullochgorum.

Photo from the Western Isles (CC) Kristian Dela Cour.