Technical Issues: Song

I was interested to read in a comment made on the ‘Technical: Voice’ post here that there was a time ‘when it was everybody in the community’s responsibility to contribute their voices in song.’  Part of me wonders whether it’s for this reason that a book like The Pioneers–about the founding and development of a colonial settlement–has songs embedded in its depiction of every day life.

In the first half of The Pioneers, there are two songs I’ve encountered, about which I’ve had to make a decision with respect to how to adapt them from words on a page–arranged in verse and described as singing–to an audio format, where it becomes a matter of choice as to whether I should read the words straight; read them with a made-up sing-song voice to suggest singing; or to do some research, find the tune of the song being quoted, and sing it accordingly, within the significant limits of my vocal range.

What did anybody do before YouTube, I ask you?

The first song I researched was a gathering song of the Clan of Donald the Black that Donald Cameron sings when he’s ploughing the fields:

Pibroch o’ Donuil Dhu,
Pibroch o’ Donuil,
Wake thy wild voice anew,
Summon Clan Conuil.

Leave untended the herd,
The flock without shelter;
Leave the corpse uninterred,
The bride at the altar.

Leave the deer, leave the steer,
Leave nets and barges;
Come in your fighting gear,
Broad swords and t—a—r—ges.

In this case, my YouTube search didn’t yield anyone actually singing the words, but there were so many renditions of the music with bagpipes and fiddles that I took the tune and sang along to it.

Thankfully Prichard provides a ready apology for any bad singing on my part with Mary’s observation of her husband’s voice:  ‘His voice had not much music.’

The second song is one that the school master, Dan Farrel sings for his daughter, Deirdre, after explaining why they must always love Mrs Cameron. Farrel describes Mary as ‘my darling black head’, which doesn’t sound promising, really, until Deirdre begs him to sing the old song his use of the phrase has reminded her of:

Put your black head, darling, darling, darling.
Your darling black head my heart above.
O mouth of honey, with thyme for fragrance.
Who, with heart in breast, could deny you love?

The lyrics Prichard uses in The Pioneers, a translation by Samuel Ferguson, aren’t, I think, the most elegant arrangement. I was pleased to find a Gaelic language version, accompanied by a more nuanced English translation, on YouTube, not least because Prichard writes that Farrel sings the verse in Gaelic:

You only need to listen up to 1:49 on this video.

When I recorded this section of the audiobook, I was singing in English, which meant I had to make up my own phrasing, so it’s certain I don’t contribute much in the way of elegance myself to Ferguson’s translation of the song.

At any rate, I’ll continue to track down the tunes of any future songs I might have to sing during this project. Part of me rather enjoys having an excuse to sing–to just belt it out to prospective listeners–because it’s not something I generally do, even in my own lounge-room.


About Kirsty Leishman

Currently enrolled in a Grad Dip of Teaching and Learning in anticipation of teaching English and Film, TV & New Media to high school students. Abandoned a PhD in television. Completed an MPhil on zines. Honours in Australian grunge literature. Long time university tutor of media, communications, cultural studies and academic writing. Opinionated. View all posts by Kirsty Leishman

3 responses to “Technical Issues: Song

  • Matt (@mattt111)

    I can’t remember any exact examples, but Cory Doctorow sometimes sings the ditties he writes into his stories when he reads them on his podcast. I think he sang one in Clockwork Fagan (a steampunk Dickens homage) and occasionally he reads some victorian short stories which have sung verses.

    I wonder if recording technology has caused the downfall of communal singing in our culture. Where once we were happy to hear each other’s voices, we now have our ears trained to the higher standards of professional singers and state-of-the-art music production. We also grow up with the idea that only “musicians” can make music. Then again, there seems to be periodic movements to reclaim music, like the roots movement and even the early days of punk. I’m a pretty musical person so I often sing with my kids at home and have been delighted to hear my three year old making up her own songs.

    • Kirsty

      Yes, and because we’re then too hesitant to sing, we don’t use our voices and they never develop. Perhaps I’ll start singing to the cat 😉

      It sounds very delightful indeed that your 3 year-old is making up her own songs. What does she sing about?

  • Kirsty

    In other news, I’ve had the second song here as an ear-worm for days, now. Not so bad as ear-worms go I suppose.

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