Why should we have a Gaelic Choir here in Australia so far from Scotland?

To answer this you can’t go beyond a statement made by our founder in 1983

“We are all diminished by the loss of any part of a Society's fabric, and Gaelic Music and language, as an important facet of Scottish culture and part of our heritage, should be maintained and perpetuated in our Australian multi-cultural society.”

This is also complemented by an old saying which the choir adopted a long time ago

A short giving with gold,

A long giving with song,

For not far in a crowd goes a bag full of gold,

But to all the world goes forth a song

Who sings in the Gaelic choir?

People, of diverse ethnic origins, of all ages and from all sections of the community join the choir. Their backgrounds are as varied as their social interests - these backgrounds range from retirees to members of academia, health, social welfare & local government.  All that is necessary is a love of music, an interest in Gaelic, and above all, the ability to enjoy the experience!

Do I have to be Scots to join?

You don’t have to be Scots or descended from Scots you simply need to enjoy the music.  The only pre requisites are willingness to learn and lots of enthusiasm.

Do I have to know how to speak Scottish Gaelic?

Certainly not! Songs are taught phonetically and translations are provided. There is only one Gaelic speaker actually singing with the group, although a couple of choristers are learning this beautiful, ancient language. Despite that, we were able to obtain very high marks for our Gaelic in Scotland. If you want to learn the language we can direct you to the correct contact.

Do I have to know how to read music?

You do not need to know how to read music to join the choir. Traditionally, our music is learned by ear.

What is the Style of Music?

The musical heritage of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland is, in large part, a Gaelic one. There is a huge body of material from which to choose. Gaelic songs are very numerous and diverse in nature. There are songs, for instance, which were made specifically to accompany work – walking the tweed (compacting the cloth), rowing, milking and so on - all with a strong rhythm to make the tedium of work easier. There are others whose origins relate to music for dancing - ‘puirt a beul’ or mouth music - and many others such as laments, songs of nostalgia, praise, humorous songs,  songs of exile, homesickness and love and songs about nature.  We sing a wide selection of these in an “a capella” style mostly in four- part harmony.  We also include a few Scottish English favourites

Is Choral Singing a Traditional Form of Gaelic singing?

It all depends on how far back one must go before it can be regarded as “traditional” The first formal Gaelic choir to sing in four- part harmony was instituted in St. Columba’s Church, Glasgow in 1872.  This choir was the forerunner of a major change in Gaelic tradition where secular Gaelic music, the songs of the people, was harmonised to be sung by a group of people.  Although secular Gaelic music had never been harmonised in at least four part harmony prior to 1872, it should not be taken that harmony and choirs were unknown in Scotland.   If a choir can be regarded as a gathering of adults and/or children engaged in performing and making music together under the leadership of a conductor, then the religious church choir has been used in the churches for centuries.  Secular music had been harmonised for several hundred years and while all of this musical activity was to be highly commended, it only applied to singing in Scots English or one of its variants; it did not apply to Gaelic either in Sacred or Secular music.

There are now about 40 major Gaelic choirs in Scotland with a National Gaelic Choir some 200 strong proposed to be established.  There are Gaelic choirs in the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, all this from a humble beginning in 1872.

Where do you perform?

We have performed at community events, folk clubs, private functions, including weddings, and public celebrations. We have competed at eisteddfods in Castle Hill, Parramatta, Ryde, Dural, Sydney and Goulburn as well as at the Royal National Mod in Scotland in 1992, 2000 and 2003.  We've sung at a range of functions, at the Harp Hotel in St Peters, Sydney, as opening acts for Dick Gaughan and Tony McManus, at the Australian Celtic Festivals in North Sydney and Glen Innes; at Kirking o’ the Tartan services at Balmain and Roseville and at concerts in St Stephens, Macquarie Street; Newcastle’s City  Hall; East Sydney Arts centre, Paddington;  Sydney’s Belvoir Theatre; Parramatta’s Riverside Theatre, and at a major multicultural concert in Sydney. We have also sung at various Australia Day Naturalisation ceremonies and in the Opera House forecourt and at Darling Harbour for the Scottish Australian Heritage Council during various Scottish Weeks.  We have mounted our own fundraising concerts at Rydalmere, Parramatta, Thornleigh, Balmain and Ryde. A major annual event was mounted in conjunction with the National Trust of Australia (NSW) at Old Government House in Parramatta Park, Sydney.  As you can see we have sung in fairly eclectic areas, from indoor to outdoor venues – though outdoor venues are not exactly our preferred option

Do you wear a special Choir uniform?

In our performances, we wear a form of Highland dress.

Ladies; Formal or evening wear consists of long tartan skirt (to the top of your shoes), long-sleeved white blouse and jabot, black waistcoat with silver buttons, black or dark grey stockings and black shoes.

Casual or day wear consists of  short tartan skirt, short sleeved white blouse, black waistcoat with silver buttons, black or dark grey stockings and black shoes.

Men: Formal or evening wear; Kilt, white shirt, tartan tie, black jacket with silver buttons, sporran, long hose and black shoes.

Casual or Day wear; Kilt, short sleeved white shirt, tartan tie, sporran, long hose and black shoes.

Female members of the Singers either buy or make their own outfits, as they can be worn as ordinary dress but for newcomers we recognise that this outlay can be considerable, particularly for male members of the choir. We do have a pool of clothing available for loan to new members, so if you're interested in joining us, please don't be put off on this account.

Do You Have a Standard Tartan for the Singers?

No we don’t. While some Gaelic choirs in Scotland, America and Canada, have adopted a standard tartan as their performing dress, we haven’t.   Scots and those of Scottish descent in the choir wear their own family tartans; those not of Scottish descent wear any other tartan they so desire.  From our inception we decided that the choice of which tartan to use is entirely at the discretion of each member.

We have adopted, however, the MacKenzie tartan as a unifying standard.  We use it for decorations at our performances and here on our website.   This is in acknowledgement of Robin MacKenzie-Hunter, native of Assynt in Sutherland, Scotland, who founded the Singers in Sydney in 1982 and was our leader, Choirmaster and inspiration until his retirement at the end of 2003.  He has now come out of retirement to lead us once again

How did you get the name Australian Gaelic Singers?

When the choir was founded in 1982, its membership was made up of Sydneysiders, so it was called The Sydney Gaelic Singer.  However as time went on and the membership grew it began to include people from outside Sydney, such as the Hunter area in the North and from the Shellharbour area in the South, many of these members needed a five hour round trip to attend routine rehearsals.   The name Sydney Gaelic Singers becoming more inappropriate.  In 1990 it was decided that the choir should compete at the 1992 Royal National Mod, in Oban, in western Scotland.  Because taking the choir to Scotland for this was to be an expensive undertaking, corporate sponsorship was sought.

The choir’s bid for sponsorship under the name of The Sydney Gaelic Singers, however,  was unsuccessful because it was felt we had marked ourselves as swimmers in a tiny pond.  The consultants told us that the choir’s name would need to be more expansive.  In addition frequent competitors at the Mod at that time were singers from Nova Scotia, Canada, where there is a town called Sydney.  It was all too potentially difficult and confusing.

In recognition of the fact that at the time we were the only Gaelic choir in Australia, and that a number of the members did come from outside the Sydney area,  in November 1991 we became Còisir Ghàidhlig Astràilianach, which translates to, Australian Gaelic Singers. We are an incorporated body under NSW law.

What Do I Need to Do to Join?

New members are always welcome. Our rehearsal venue is in the small church hall of the Macquarie Chapel Presbyterian Church at the corner of Herring Road and Abuklea Road, Eastwood on Thursday evenings, from 7:30 to 9.30 pm. There's some parking in the church parking area or there is plenty of street parking

The choir is open to all, whatever your background, if you want to sing with us you're welcome to visit a rehearsal, and see if you like what you hear. We generally encourage potential members to attend a couple of rehearsals to decide if they feel comfortable with the music and the group. We only ask that if you're planning to visit, you contact us ahead of time so you can be sure rehearsal is taking place on the night you plan to visit.  We don't hold formal auditions, but if you are inexperienced and do not know in which register you can sing obviously we need to assess your ability and establish which Vocal Register is most suitable.

The only pre-requisites for membership are willingness to learn, the ability to get on with others and lots of enthusiasm! A knowledge of Gaelic and/or music is not essential.  If you want to learn the language we can direct you to the correct contact.

Membership runs yearly, from one AGM at the beginning of the year to the next, and we levy annual membership fees (currently $100) to help cover running costs, material, and rent of the venue.  Even if you can’t sing but would like to be part of the group there is a social membership available

We break for the Summer, from early December to early February, and have on occasion had another, shorter break in mid-Winter.

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Last Updated (Monday, 01 January 2018 04:56)