Gaelic Psalm Singing
January 11, 2008 6:08 AM Subscribe
THE church elder’s reaction was one of utter disbelief. Shaking his head emphatically, he couldn’t take in what the distinguished professor from Yale University was telling him.
"No," insisted Jim McRae, an elder of the small congregation of Clearwater in Florida. "This way of worshipping comes from our slave past. It grew out of the slave experience, when we came from Africa."
But Willie Ruff, an Afro-American professor of music at Yale, was adamant - he had traced the origins of gospel music to Scotland.
posted by brautigan (96 comments total)
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The distinctive psalm singing had not been brought to America’s Deep South by African slaves but by Scottish émigrés who worked as their masters and overseers, according to his painstaking research. Ruff
, 71, a renowned jazz musician who played with Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie, is convinced the Florida congregation’s method of praise - called ‘presenting the line’, in which the psalms are called out and the congregation sings a response - came from the Hebrides.
While this leaves Hebridean Scots uncomfortable with their predecessor's past, it is an interesting, if unproven, connection between the two musical traditions.
In Presbyterian Free Church's
across Lewis you can here some of the finest examples of spiritual Free Heterophony
in the world, where the psalms are sung a cappella (without musical accompaniment), and led by a precentor (literally ‘one who sings beforehand’). In Gaelic psalm singing
, the precentor leads the praise by commencing the tune, which he sings along with the congregation for two lines of a four-line stanza. On the third line, the precentor sings the line solo, which is then repeated by the congregation; this occurs for each line until the end of the item of praise. The result is a unique musical event, full of the traditions of Celtic religious culture, and deeply moving in its praise of God.
While a very different entity from the often joyous expressiveness of Baptist Gospel (The Hebrides have decades or miserable weather and even more miserable bible preachers to thank for that) it is surely as spiritual.
Some examples for you to listen to:
Psalm 16 5-7
Psalm 16 6-9
[Originally posted as a response to this