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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Exhibition on Gaelic Song Traditions Arrives in Portree

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High Life Highland is hosting an exhibition highlighting Gaelic sacred song traditions in the Hebrides at its archive centre in Portree. 

Seinn Spioradail is on its third leg of a two-year tour of the islands and will be available to view in the Skye and Lochalsh Archive Centre until the 11th November before moving on to Lionacleit (Benbecula) and Ness (Lewis).

Visitors can learn more about sacred song traditions of the region and explore sound recordings, film, objects, and a digital archive, soundmap and interactive virtual tour.

Dr Frances Wilkins, Senior Lecturer in Ethnomusicology at the Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen, has spent the last six years undertaking fieldwork in the West Highlands and Western Isles and exploring sacred and spiritual singing from the region.

To help support the safeguarding of the tradition Dr Wilkins has been documenting and recording Gaelic sacred and spiritual singing including hymnody, Gaelic psalmody and spiritual bàrdachd, to create an archive and bring the music to a wider audience.

Using this material as a basis, she co-curated the exhibition, Seinn Spioradail: Sacred Soundscapes of the Highlands and Islandswith designer Ronan Martin.

Dr Wilkins said:

“We are excited to be bringing the exhibition to Portree.

“As a resident of Skye, it is great to have to exhibition close to home, and many of the project’s contributors are also from the island.”

High Life Highland Archivist Catherine MacPhee commented:

“The Skye and Lochalsh Archive Centre is delighted to host this rich archive of work, remembering music, listening to it, or playing it, is wholly in the present.

“Without oral traditions we would know very little about the past of large parts of the world, and we would know very little from the inside.

“We are really excited to be sharing this project with our communities and visitors to the area.”

Gaelic psalm singing, which has been integral to church and community life on Skye for centuries, is a particular focus in the exhibition.

One contributor to the project, Alex ‘Bhaltos’ MacDonald from Staffin, expressed the importance of the tradition for him, saying:

“There’s just something about Gaelic psalm singing that moves me.

“It doesn’t matter where I am.

“If I hear it, it just brings me back to my youth.

“It brings me back to happy events but also very sad events. It was, is and always will be powerful in my eyes.”

Many of the sound recordings, photographs and videos made during the project form the basis of a website and online digital archive (www.seinn.org), developed in partnership with the Open Virtual Worlds team at St Andrews University.

A CD and book publication showcasing some of the sound recordings is due to be released later in 2024 and sold within the exhibition.

Dr Wilkins added:

“While the contexts for singing are currently in decline, the music continues to be a soundscape to a way of life for many people.

“The purpose of this exhibition is to explore how sacred singing was, and continues to be, integral to many aspects of community life, and to highlight the wealth of hymns, psalms and spiritual songs being sung in the region today.

“Language is a way to express culture.

“The deep spiritual connection it has with its people and the role which music plays in this, must be recognised and supported into the future if we are to keep some of the most precious aspects of Gaelic culture alive.

“Doing the research in the Hebrides was an incredible experience.

“I have met so many inspiring people and am very grateful to everyone who has been involved and helped me with the project.

“I am pleased that my research and its publication is playing a part in the preservation of these unique song traditions.”

Co-curator Ronan Martin said:

“It has been a privilege to work with the material collected by Dr Wilkins and learn more about this remarkable tradition, which plays such an important part in many people’s daily lives.

“This exhibition would not be possible without financial support from the British Academy, Carnegie Trust, and Bòrd na Gàidhlig.”

The exhibition can be experienced at the Skye and Lochalsh Archive Centre on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridas from 10am-1pm and from 2pm-5pm.

For more information please visit the website www.seinn.org or Skye and Lochalsh Archive Centre – Skye and Lochalsh Archive Centre (highlifehighland.com)

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