It isn't often that we are able to purchase an item for our pleasure while simultaneously supporting a very worthy cause. But I'm happy to say that here is such a golden opportunity.
"Brìgh na Nollaig", which translates "Essence of Christmas," is a fantastic collection of Gaelic Christmas carols performed by some of the very best artists in Scottish traditional music. The album was produced and licensed to Highland Hospice by Eyeline Media Ltd and MG ALBA, and is comprised of songs originally recorded for broadcast on BBC Alba as part of their watch night services. None of the featured musicians have received a fee, which means that all profit from sales of the album will help Highland Hospice to deliver palliative care to patients and their families all over the Highlands, free of charge. Having personally experienced the dedication of hospice staff who lovingly cared for my own dying loved ones, I can attest to the merit of supporting this very worthy project.
The CD may be purchased directly through http://www.highlandhospice.org/Get-Involved/Retail/Product-List?cid=16~Highland_Hospice
Below is an overview of the songs and artists included on this fabulous project:
1. Julie Fowlis, "Bha Buachaillean An Duthaich Shear" ("There Were Shepherds in an Eastern Country"), written by Kenna Campbell, arrangement by Anna-Wendy Stevenson.
A beautiful carol, this is a perfect to start this amazing collection. Julie is one of the more popular Gaelic singers of our time, having ignored well-meaning advice suggesting she pursue a career in more mainstream music. Rather, Julie has remained true to her roots and the Gaelic language. Now she is busier than ever and still finds her inspiration and creativity from the music, history and culture of her homeland.
2. James Graham, "A'Righ Nan Righrean" ("King of Kings"), arrangement by Bruce MacGregor.
James treats us to a taste of his impressive vocal range with this lilting Gaelic treasure. This young man's talent isn't unappreciated, as he was nominated twice in the category of "Best Gaelic Singer" at the Scottish Traditional Music Awards. In 2007 James won the coveted Mod Gold Medal in Lochaber, the highest accolade for menís solo singing at the Royal National Mod. Having won the 2004 BBC Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year Award--the first male and first Gaelic singer to do so--James is well on his way to becoming one of the best-loved Gaelic singers of our time.
3. Flying Fiddles, "Rhoda's Air/Tune For Senna," arrangement by Flying Fiddles.
The Flying Fiddles--comprised of Christina Campbell, Ealasaid Dick, Lachie Dick, Mairi Gilfedder, Amy MacAulay, Eilidh MacLeod and Kirsty MacMillan--is a group of young musicians from the Islands of Uist in the Outer Hebrides, off the West Coast of Scotland. Over the past few years they have performed at many high-profile events including the Celtic Colours festival in Cape Breton, the Celtic Connections Festival, Martyn Bennett Night, and the Edinburgh Fiddle Festival. This waltzing instrumental is a real testament to the wonderful talent this young group has been blessed with.
4. Margaret Stewart, Julie Fowlis & Paul McCallum, "Ainglean Chuala Sinn Gu H-ard" ("Angels We Have Heard on High"), arrangement by Anna-Wendy Stevenson.
This is the traditional carol sung by Julie Fowlis, Paul McCallum and Margaret Stewart in Gaelic, lending an old-world charm to the beautiful song set to the music of "Gloria," originally arranged by Antonio Vivaldi. Sure to be a favorite.
5. Kathleen MacInnes & Bun-sgoil Ghàidhlig Inbhir Nis, "Fada Cian Ann An Staball" ("Away in a Manger"), arrangement by Bruce MacGregor.
This charming version of the traditional carol has radio/TV personality, actress and singer Kathleen MacInnes singing along with children from Bun-sgoil Ghàidhlig Inbhir Nis (Inverness Gaelic Primary School). Kathleen performs the song beautifully, but that comes as no surprise, as Scots Trad Music Awards presented Kathleen with the Gaelic Singer of the Year award in 2006. The song closes perfectly with the sweet quality of the children's voices providing accompaniment in the background.
6. Margaret Stewart, "A'Leanabh Ghil Mhilis" ("Oh, Bright Sweet Child"), translated by Margaret Stewart, arrangement by Anna-Wendy Stevenson.
A native Gaelic speaker, Margaret has performed at such prestigious avenues as The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the Willie Clancy Summer School in Co Clare in Ireland, Sidmouth International Festival, The Highland Festival, Blas, Celtic Colours in Cape Breton, and Celtic Connections. She remains faithful to her native Gaelic, continuing to study Gaelic song at Edinburgh University. For this wonderful addition to the album, harp and violins accompany Margaret in a sweet inspirational melody.
7. Inverness Gaelic Choir, "Tàladh Chrìosda" ("Christ's Lullaby"), conducted by Jamie MacGregor.
Scottish Gaelic Christmas carol "Tàladh Chrìosda" (also known as "Tàladh ar Slànaigheir"--"Lullaby of our Saviour") is performed fantastically by the Inverness Gaelic Choir (Còisir Ghàidhlig Inbhirnis). The choir has been performing for over 70 years, but has more recently been prominent in the Gaelic music community thanks to a diverse program and innovative approach. In the last 12 years the choir has really made an impact, winning the prestigious Lovat and Tullibardine Shield five times at the Royal National Mod.
8. Maggie MacDonald, "Bha Sneachda Na Chuibhrig" ("The Snow Was Like A Coverlet"), arrangement by Bruce MacGregor.
This song comes from a Gaelic poem that tells the story of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter the night Christ is born. Powerfully performed, this haunting piece will draw you back over and over. Sung by Maggie MacDonald from the Gaelic group Cliar, her her talent for puirt-a-beul, or mouth music, is evident here. Maggie comes from a long line of talented Campbells of Greepe in the island of Skye--one of the most famous and accomplished families of traditional Gaelic singers in Scotland. And Maggie has certainly continued the tradition, having been awarded the prestigious Gold Medal at the Royal National Mod in 1994.
9. Julie Fowlis, "Ann am Baile Rìoghail Dhaibhidh" ("Once in David's Royal City")
Julie's version of this song is stunning in its purity, but it's no wonder. As a member of the sextet singing group Dòchas, voted Best Newcomer at the Scots Trad Music Awards in 2004, Julie herself was nominated for the Best Gaelic Singer award. She won the Horizon award at the 2006 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, Folk Singer of The Year 2008 and was nominated for the Folk Singer of the Year award at the 2007 awards.
10. Bruce MacGregor & Caledonian Canal Ceilidh Trail, "Midwinter Waltz/Christmas Eve", arrangement by Bruce MacGregor.
This is a fun detour from the more traditional songs on the album. Arranged by the incredibly talented Bruce MacGregor, this collaboration begins with the pleasantly soft Midwinter Waltz, leading seamlessly into Christmas Eve, a surprising foot-stomper. Bruce has had a multifaceted career that has, among other things, included a four-year stint with the band Cliar, founding the band Blazin Fiddles, starting an award-winning fiddle school Blazin' in Beauly, working in various capacities at the BBC, and running an adventure farm near Inverness called Bogbain. On top of all that, he continues to play rugby in his "spare time."
Accompanying Bruce is the Caledonian Canal Ceilidh Trail, which showcases talented young musicians who play in a variety of locations in and around the Caledonian Canal and Loch Ness, stretching from Inverness down to Neptune's Staircase at Banavie. Now in its 9th year, the CCCT is brought together by The Highland Councilís Education, Culture and Sport Service.
11. Paul McCallum, "Leanabh An Aigh" ("Morning Has Broken"), arrangement by Anna-Wendy Stevenson.
Anna-Wendy Stevenson lends her love of harp and fiddle to this arrangement, artfully sung by tenor Paul McCallum, who comes from a talented musical family. His grandfather was a well-known and highly regarded violinist and his aunt was a classical pianist. His cousin Byron is an accomplished guitarist and has many compositions to his name. Paul himself has won two gold medals at the Royal National Mod, and has been said to have "the voice of an angel."
12. Lews Castle College, Benbecula, "In the Bleak Midwinter/Heights of Casino," arrangement by Anna-Wendy Stevenson.
This musical interlude is the crowning gem of this album. While certainly not traditional Christmas fare, the pairing of the instrumental version of the Christmas poem "In the Bleak of Midwinter" with a peaceful rendition of the piper's march "Heights of Casino" was a brilliant move. The fine arts college, located on the Isle of Lewis, caters toward musicians, even boasting several of its own recording studios. This tune certainly flaunts the college's accomplishments.
Celtic Radio Contributor