‘S e urram dha-rìreabh a tha seo dhomhsa a bhith a’ seasamh air ur beulaibh airson luaidh a thoirt air beatha-obrach an tè a tha a’ faighinn na duais mar chuimhneachan air Hamish MacEanruig am bliadhna, agus gu dearbh an cothrom a ghabhail duais a thoirt seachad do bhoireannach a tha sònraichte ann an iomadh dòigh agus air a bheil mi fhìn air leth measail.
Ged a tha mi air a bhith eòlach oirre fad iomadh bliadhna, an-uiridh fhuair mi an cothrom suidhe sìos agus barrachd eòlais a chur oirre nuair a bha sinn an-sàs còmhla ann am prògram reidio a bha air a riochdachadh le Màiri-Anna NicUalraig. Chuir sinn seachad dà uair a thìde a’ bruidhinn ri càch a-chèile mu dheidhinn a bhith cruinneachadh òrain, mu na dòighean anns an gabhadh sin a dhèanadh gu h-èifeachdach, agus mun spèis a bu chòir a bhith aig seinneadairean agus luchd-ciùil dhan ghinealach a dh’fhalbh agus an dìleab a dh’fhàg iad as an dèidh.
Cha do dh’fhairich mise an ùine a’ dol seachad idir – ged is dòcha gun do dh’fharich ise an ùine fada – ach nuair a chuala mi gun robh ainm an tè seo air a chur air adhart airson na duais seo, cha b’urrainn dhomh smaoineachadh air neach na b’fheàrr agus i air leth airidh air an urram shònraichte a tha seo.
The recipient of this year’s Hamish Henderson Award for Services to Traditional Music is a lady to whom it is difficult for me to pay adequate tribute. Among Gaelic singers she is legendary as a fountain of knowledge. She is a lady whom I have always admired and respected, and who has given the major part of her life over to preserving, for posterity, the songs, conversations and stories of a great many people regarded as the real tradition bearers of the Highlands & Islands. She has a rich knowledge of Gaelic song and story-collecting from the islands, in particular, and worked alongside other well-known figures in that field such as the late Donald Archie MacDonald, whose widow Agnes is with us tonight, the Rev William Matheson, Alan Bruford, Torquil Knudsen (Kanudsen), Peter Cook, Dr John MacInnes and Hamish Henderson himself.
She was born in Scalpay, Harris and educated at the primary school there before going to Inverness, where she attended the Inverness Royal Academy. She graduated with a Master of Arts degree from the University of Edinburgh and after a spell of uncertificated teaching, she began as a texts transcriber at the School of Scottish Studies in 1962 before going to Jordanhill College of Education in 1963 to train as a teacher. She returned to the School of Scottish Studies as music transcriber in 1964 and remained there for the best part of the next 37 years, apart from a year’s teaching in Jordanhill and a 3-year secondment to the Van Leer Project – a community development project – with which she worked in her native Harris. Latterly she was a Senior Lecturer at the School of Scottish Studies, where she specialised in Gaelic Song.
Among the people whose material she transcribed, or collected, is a veritable ‘who’s who’ of Gaelic tradition bearers – Ciorstaidh Shaw, Alasdair Boyd, Lexy Campbell, Kate Buchanan, Flora Boyd, Kate MacDonald (Bean Eardsaidh Raghnaill, mother of Rona Lightfoot) and Calum Johnstone.
During her time at the School she was very much involved in the preparation of the Gaelic recordings in the ‘Scottish Tradition’ series of CDs released by Greentrax, and two releases stand out for me in which this lady’s involvement was absolutely key. The CD of the Rev William Matheson, which has become a must for anyone seriously interested in Gaelic song; and the release of songs recorded by the late Joan Mackenzie – Seonag NicChoinnich – who sadly died earlier this year. She succeeded the late Dr Alan Bruford as editor of the magazine ‘Tocher’, which has given so many people an insight into what is contained within the archives of the School of Scottish Studies. She wrote a chapter on Gaelic song in the book ‘The Folk Music Revival in Scotland’ on which she collaborated with Ailie Munro. For many years she helped An Comunn Gàidhealach choose songs – the prescribed pieces – for the National Mòd as a member of the Mòd Music Committee, where she put in a power of work re-notating a great many of them to ensure that the notation adequately reflected the natural rhythms and stresses of the Gaelic language. Over the years she has regularly worked with the BBC on programmes illustrating the materials in the School of Scottish Studies archives, and as an occasional presenter of programmes such as ‘An t-Òranaiche’. She’s even had the dubious privilege of driving Irish and Scottish musicians, singers and poets round the country in a mini-bus on biennial bardic tours!
She says she has retired and has gone back to live in Scalpay. But she continues to contribute greatly to this hugely important work, still involved in editing ‘Tocher’ and still involved in the preparation of the ‘Scottish Tradition’ series of recordings. For a number of years she has been involved – along with Cailean Maclean – in putting together annual showcases of various aspects of Gaelic culture for the Gaelic Society of Inverness, and the significant thing about those nights is that they are entirely in Gaelic. Her work also continues in cataloguing material for Tobar an Dualchais, the major digitisation project that will, through time, make the archives of the School of Scottish Studies, the BBC and John Lorne Campbell’s Canna Collection available to all. After having been closely involved in placing collected material in the archive, she is now going to see it coming out the other end and being made readily available for the first time. A hugely important project that will benefit immeasurably from this lady’s involvement. And she has unfinished business in that she wants to see through a commission she was given to compile and publish a collection of Gaelic songs, and I’m salivating at the thought of that one!
From a clearly musical family – her late brother Angus having been one of the most popular Gaelic singers ever – she is no mean singer herself and has been involved in leading workshops where she has imparted some of the songs, and stories associated with them, that she has amassed over the years. She has a particularly special knowledge of waulking songs and lullabies and I personally have benefited from having taken part in workshops that she has led and enjoyed every minute of my time in them. Never one to shy away from expressing an opinion, she is nonetheless a very funny and, at times, gracious lady.
The Scots Trad Music Awards are often about celebrating the success of the artists who are out there performing songs and tunes. But without the work of the people who preserved the tradition so that the rest of us could continue to enjoy it for generations to come, Scottish culture would be much worse off and those performers would have fewer songs to sing.
Tradition evolves and is still alive and well, albeit different, and it is particularly fitting that in 2007 – the year that Scotland Celebrates Highland Culture – this award is going to a Gael, and one who has done so much to bring the culture of the Highlands & Islands to so many, probably without them even realising the role this special lady has played. Her contribution has often been unseen, but has not been unnoticed or forgotten, and I am delighted to announce that the Hamish Henderson Award for Services to Traditional Music goes to an extremely worthy recipient – Morag MacLeod.