Scottish musicians collaborate with Ursuline Academy Choir

Zac Boesch |

Instead of after-school French or Spanish, for one week members of the Ursuline Academy Choir practiced their Lowland Scots and Gaelic Scots with two musicians from Scotland as part of the Scottish Partnership for Arts in Education.

The Scottish Partnership for Arts in Education, or SPAE, provides workshops to area schools on Scottish music and history. Diane McCullough, artistic director for SPAE, said the first full artist residencies began in 2007 with traditional fiddle and that last year was the first time SPAE added Gaelic Scots songs to their workshops.

This was the first time SPAE conducted a workshop at Ursuline Academy, which included four sessions during the week and culminated in a concert on Oct. 4. Jay Harkey, music director at Ursuline, had previously worked with SPAE at St. Elizabeth Academy and wanted to continue working with the program at Ursuline.

"Ursuline has a great tradition of really fine choirs, but its been kind of more classically based," Harkey said about why he found exposing students to authentic folk musicians so beneficial. Besides introducing a different musical style, Harkey hoped the workshop broadened students' insights into other cultures. The workshop also was intended to help students see how Scottish music, along with Irish and West African music, influenced American musical styles such as blues, jazz and country.

Before each song was performed, Scottish musicians Amy Lord and Calum Martin briefly explained the history and meaning of each song. Lord found working with older students enjoyable because they were able to grasp the meaning and emotion behind the songs. Both musicians described the workshop as a collaborative experience, since most of the songs are taught without strict adherence to sheet music.

"There's a phrase in Scots called, 'The songs the thing'" Lord said. "It doesn't matter about the singer, it doesn't matter about melody, it's the story and the story behind the song. I think they totally got that."

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