Saturday, 20 November 2010
A Unique Sound
The video was recorded on the Isle of Lewis and is part of a Free Church of Scotland service. The Youtube uploader describes it as 'a unique sound in the world of music'.
Many years ago I worked on the Isle of Lewis for a few weeks. Attending the strictly Calvinist church was the only acceptable activity on a Sunday. Even cooking was frowned on and many women prepared the Sunday dinner on a Saturday. Television and radio were prohibited and the island just seemed to be shrouded in an oppressive gloom.
Listening to a few seconds of this video reminds me of my one attempt to join the local churchgoing tradition. Actually I felt rather obliged to attend as I'd been in the company of the precentor and his wife earlier in the week. His parting words were, "We'll be seeing you on Sunday morning then." I nodded meekly in agreement, completely unaware of what was in store for the Sabbath.
The unaccompanied metrical singing assaulted my eardrums like a group of tone-deaf inebriates attempting The Road and the Miles to Dundee at Hogmanay. For me the haunting, pitch-lag style is an acquired taste in music and not one I would willingly wish to hear again in large, or even medium, doses.
However, it's all about to change and I could perhaps be persuaded to attend another service because, after two days of debate, about 200 ministers and elders voted - by 98 to 84 - to use 'instruments and other items of praise'. The choice will be left to the patriarchal elders, (no women yet allowed), but it will certainly be interesting to hear how the church hierarchy drag themselves into the 21st century now that their exclusive psalmody is no longer to be the only 'pure' way of worshipping God.
Somehow I can't see any of the 100 congregations in Scotland rushing to purchase organs or - heaven forbid - tambourines, but the 5 congregations in North America may be more adventurous. At least there is now choice involved although I think it will take some years for melodious, uplifting music to be pouring out of church doors on the Outer Hebrides. Who can blame them? It would be a cultural loss to Scotland if this unique musical tradition were to cease altogether and be replaced with happy clappy hymns.