Composers Craig Armstrong and Calum Martin have embarked upon a new collaboration, which began as a meeting of ideas with a mutual, long-held belief that there was a special project to be written, looking at the unique spiritual tradition of Gaelic Psalm singing.
This has been achieved in a most spectacular way on the brand new album, ‘The Edge of the Sea’, featuring two new works: ‘The Martyrdom Variations’, and ‘Ballantyne’; with the concept being realised by bringing together a curated congregation by Calum’s from the Isles of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, along with the outstanding talent and enthusiasm of the Scottish Ensemble.
Today sees the release of the first of a series of videos created for the project by Scottish artists Matthew Dalziel and Louise Scullion.
The video for the first piece released from ‘The Edge of the Sea’, ‘Ballantyne Movement 2’, features a stunning and moving view of the Flannan Islands, as filmed looking outwards from the Isle of Lewis.
Craig Armstrong hopes “you will find beauty and serenity in this music and film at this difficult time. We thank all the musicians and artists who worked on this project.”
At the outset of this unique project, it was agreed by both Craig Armstrong and Calum Martin that any music based on the Gaelic Psalms would have to be respectful of the tradition and that the composition written to accompany the singing would allow complete freedom of expression for the singing style.
“Gaelic Psalm Singing has long been a very important tradition in the canon of music in Scotland. It is a uniquely Scottish “ Sean Nòs” old vocal style, which has been nurtured in its natural environment of family worship. This unique traditional vocal style is sadly facing a real danger of disappearing for good and we see this unique recording as an opportunity to both archive and introduce a new audience to the tradition with a strong sense of its history and future at its core.”
‘The Martyrdom Variations’ is based on an existing traditional melody, Martyrdom, from the late eighteenth century and is still used in Gaelic church services today. The combination of its melody and the variations created by the composer was to become the beginning of a unique collaboration between Craig and Calum.
‘Ballantyne’, was originally commissioned by Alex Macdonald from the Lewis arts centre, An Lanntair as part of their Creative Places Awards concert in August 2016.
‘Ballantyne’ is originally based on the Ascension story of The Acts of the Apostles (chapter 1, verses 6-11). Compositionally ‘Ballantyne’ also contains a melody by Calum Martin and features original composition by Craig. It is dedicated to Craig’s father, John Armstrong and features Duncan Chisholm, one of the leaders in traditional Highland fiddle music.
Calum Martin explains, “Gaelic Psalm Singing has been part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I was always hoping to meet a composer who I could collaborate with to bring the musical ideas I had fermenting in my brain to fruition in one form or another, but not as part of some “add-on” gimmick to a modern music style but as a legitimate and unique art form which retains its authenticity and at the same time explores its amazing “Sean Nòs” vocal style possibilities in an orchestral setting.”
Craig Armstrong continues: “When I left the Royal Academy of Music in 1981 I became aware of the tradition of Gaelic Psalm Singing and was very interested in exploring and finding out more about this beautiful music. In a way this project has taken many years to come to fruition. When I was introduced to Calum initially by Donald Shaw, (Celtic Connections director), I expressed to Calum my interest. I’m happy to say that throughout the following years Calum has taught me a great deal about this unique tradition in detail and has also become a very valued friend.
I knew when working with Calum and the congregation it would be no simple task to fuse the classical and folk traditions with the Gaelic Psalm Singing. However it has been a very rewarding experience to compose these two pieces with Calum and work closely with the congregation, Scottish Ensemble, Isobel Ann Martin, Calum Iain Macleod, Neil Johnston and Duncan Chisholm. I hope this music will help in the continuation of this special musical tradition in Scotland and beyond.”
The recording took place at the stunning acoustic space at Dundee Caird Hall with the Scottish Ensemble, conductor Cecilia Weston, guest violin Duncan Chisholm and the congregation curated by Calum Martin from Lewis and Harris featuring solo voice by Isobel Ann Martin and Calum Iain Macleod . The live recording is by award winning (Grammy, BAFTA, Classical Brits) Floating Earth engineer Mike Hatch.
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