Gaelic Psalmody as a Soundscape to a Way of Life

Photograph credit: Mairi Martin

Since 2018, I have been working on the research project, ‘Seinn Coisrigte anns a’ Ghaidhealtachd an Iar agus ‘sna h-Eileanan Siar’, which explores current and past spiritual singing practices in the West Highlands and the Western Isles. The project, which has received funding from the Carnegie Trust and the British Academy, has involved extensive field recording and interviews in the region, and its aim has been to explore the role of singing in worship within the faith communities and in their social, linguistic, cultural and occupational contexts. Historical research into the traditions has been paramount in understanding current practices, and one aspect of this has involved delving into the archives.

In November 2020 I was invited to write an article for Tobar an Dualchais, which was published in the West Highland Free Press, exploring one very significant aspect of spiritual singing – the Gaelic psalmody tradition. In the article I explore the importance of psalmody as a soundscape to everyday life, drawing on material from the archives, specifically the singing of Murdina MacDonald from Ballantrushal on the Isle of Lewis, who had an incredible musical knowledge of psalms and spiritual songs, and was recorded on numerous occasions in the 1950s and 60s by fieldworkers from the School of Scottish Studies and elsewhere.

The full article can be found here.

Dr Frances Wilkins,
Senior Lecturer in Ethnomusicology
The Elphinstone Institute
University of Aberdeen

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