Seattle sounds make waves at Mòd Loch Abar
Neill Bo Finlayson The Oban Times | Thursday October 26, 2017
Every year the Mòd offers a rare insight into the breadth and depth of Gaelic influence across the world.
This year was no different as an unlikely group of Gaelic singers from the other side of the Atlantic showed the culture and language lives on among Highland descendants in some of the most unlikely places.
Seirm, a 25-strong Gaelic choir from Seattle, United States, flew over to Scotland to take their place at Mòd Loch Abar 2017, accompanied by a big following of family and friends.
The choir's origins are rooted in Slighe nan Gàidheal, a non-profit educational society in Seattle that teaches and promotes Gaelic language and culture in the Pacific Northwest. Members' interest in Gaelic song was piqued after learning about the history of the music in classes and the society decided to establish a choir in time to take part in the Vancouver Mòd in 1997.
It was fitting then that on the eve of its 20th anniversary members of the society travelled to Fort William to take their place the Royal National Mòd 2017.
The choir entered into the Margrat Duncan Memorial Trophy for area choirs on Friday afternoon, sharing the stage with some of the biggest names in Gaelic music.
Speaking after their performance in front of a packed Nevis Centre crowd, choir conductor Penny MacLeod DeGraff said: 'I feel we did very well, it was definitely one of our best performances.'
As well as the full choir competitions, the group had a very strong presence in the waulking song competitions, with the three of the seven groups entered coming from Seattle.
'We've been doing waulking songs for 20 years,' Penny explained, 'and this is our second time at the Mòd. In 2001 we entered and won the competition.'
Although based in Seattle, members of the choir hail from all over the North West of the United States, up to and even including Canada. From Eugene in western Oregon all the way up to Vancouver Island in British Columbia, the catchment area of the choir must be one of the largest to be represented at the Mòd.
Their geographic disparity does cause some logistical problems, however. Though the more centrally located members of the choir meet in Seattle once a week for a practice, the rest of the choir have to rely on Skype to tune in and learn the songs.
Penny said: 'Everyone lives so far apart and we didn't get everyone together until we got to Scotland.
'So it's certainly been a challenge to get here but everyone has been so committed. Some people came early and some have come for a holiday. We had one fiddler with us, Brandon Vance, who competed in various events but has flown back early to take part in a competition in Oregon.'
The group was getting coached by Gaelic tutors in Vancouver, which meant having to send tape recordings of their practices back and forth with feedback and comments.
Penny continued: 'At the fèis in Seattle last year, I put a sign-up list on the wall which received 44 signatures. Although many people dropped off, we still travelled here with a choir of 25 singers. Everyone paid for their own flights and accommodation. We found a hotel we could all stay in and needed to make a deposit there and then - that weeded out a lot of the wishful thinkers signed up on the sheet.'
The unwavering commitment of this unlikely band of Gaelic singers is nothing short of inspirational. Not only was their appearance at the Mòd on stage on Friday deserving, it was most certainly welcome.
To see such passion for Gaelic song from a group of North Americans, living 4,400 miles from Scotland, is what the Mòd is really about - rejoicing in the ancient culture and language of the Gaels.
'It's been quite an experience this week. Everyone has been so friendly and helpful in getting us here and helping with our entries, so a big thanks to them,' said Penny.
'Sadly we won't be back next year. We need time to save up, but we will definitely be back to the Mòd in the future.'
Saturday, October 14th
- 2:00 am (PDT)/10:00 am (UK) Pipes Ceòl Mór: Ed MacIlwaine - Lochaber High School, Assembly Hall
- 5:30 am (PDT)/1:30 pm (UK) Pipes Ceòl Beag: Ed MacIlwaine - Lochaber High School, Assembly Hall
- 4:45 am (PDT)/12:45 pm (UK) Fiddle: Brandon Vance - Caol Joint Campus, Assembly Room (Awarded 1st Place!)
- 7:00 am (PDT)/3:00 pm (UK) Pipes Hornpipe & Jig: Ed MacIlwaine - Lochaber High School, Assembly Hall
Wednesday, October 18th
- 1:00 am (PDT)/9:00 am (UK) Silver Pendant: Nancy Johnson - St. Andrew’s Church
- Gold Medal: Seumas Gagne - Duncansburgh Church
- 5:30 am (PDT)/1:30 pm (UK) Silver Pendant Final: Nancy Johnson (we hope!) - Nevis Centre
- 6:00 am (PDT)/2:00 pm (UK) Duet: Eden Crichton & Meredith Hale - St. Andrew’s Church
- Skye Song: Penny DeGraff, Brandon Vance - Duncansburgh Church
- 11:30 am (PDT)/7:30 pm (UK) Gold Medal Final: Seumas Gagne (we hope!) - Nevis Centre
Thursday, October 19th
- 3:30 am (PDT)/11:30 am (UK) Solo puirt-a-beul: Brandon Vance - Duncansburgh Church, Small Hall
- 6:45 am (PDT)/2:45 pm (UK) Waulking Song - Duncansburgh Church, Large Hall
Friday, October 20th
- 1:00 am (PDT)/9:00 am (UK) Puirt-a-beul: Seirm - Nevis Centre
- 2:45 am (PDT)/10:45 am (UK) Quartet: Oran nan Car - Duncansburgh Church, Small Hall
- 5:30 am (PDT)/1:30 pm (UK) Margrat Duncan: Seirm - Nevis Centre