The Gaelic Song Project is York music Professor Dorothy de Val’s next project once her book on Lucy Broadwood, the English folk song collector, is published in May.
De Val is studying traditional Gaelic songs and aiming to foster an awareness of the language while also contributing to its preservation. A key part of this new project is research into prominent figures such as Frances Tolmie and Marjory Kennedy-Fraser, who collected hundreds of Gaelic songs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many of them dating back to a much earlier period.
To assist her research, de Val has been studying Scots Gaelic since 2006, wryly noting how its grammatical structure and distinctive spelling and pronunciation make it challenging to learn. The number of those who are fluent in Gaelic are beginning to dwindle, though schools such as Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in Skye and St. Anne’s Gaelic College in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, do much to promote the language and culture; de Val has studied at both.
The connection between Scotland and the Eastern Canadian provinces is of particular interest to de Val. These historical connections have also inspired a number of York’s music students to learn more about Gaelic culture, song and dance. De Val hopes to build the Music Department’s Celtic program by integrating various artistic practices in both studies and studio settings.
Currently, de Val is planning a research trip to the archives in Scotland and Halifax that house artifacts related to Gaelic culture. She is particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of visiting Tolmie and Kennedy-Fraser’s archives at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, where she will begin sifting through an extensive collection of field notes, film clips and other research-related artifacts.
Inspired by the work of contemporary Irish composer Michael McGlynn, de Val aims to combine research and practice in the Gaelic Song Project by including compositional and performance components. She will be using her creative skills to arrange selected songs for various combinations of harp and chorus. She also looks forward to working with her daughter Susanna McCleary, who plays the fiddle and sings in Gaelic, and singer Catherine-Ann MacPhee from Ottawa. Together they plan to make the music come alive.
Reprinted from the March 2011 issue of Fine Arts Research Newsletter, by Suzanne Jaeger, Fine Arts research officer, and Dan Vena, York theatre student