Now here's something of a rarity - a folk concept-style double album - one CD of song, the other of spoken word. 'Haunting' from Christina Stewart raises the bar on the traditional interface between story and song. Rather than simply mixing spoken words with songs, this double album takes you through a collection of sung and spoken narratives with interwoven themes and morals.
No doubt about it, this album demands much of the listener and to get the most form the experience it requires your attention throughout. And yes, it takes time but accept the challenge, persevere and you will be rewarded. From 'Blow, ye Winds, Blow' with its warning based around quickness of mind to evade disaster through its counterpart story 'The King's Three Questions', which emphasises the same skill; to 'Tam Glen' a retelling of Robert Burns' tale of young infatuation with a match more preferable than the local lord and its accompaniment story 'Diving for Love'.
There's an absolute wealth of myth and legend within, delivered in Gaelic, Scots and English. The fabled transformation tale of 'The Grey Selkie' is once again brought to life through the song itself and the illustrative narrative on 'Selkies and Grey Seals'. Arguably the basis of Thomas the Rhymer, the Scottish ballad, 'True Thomas' delves further into fairyland folklore, which in spoken tale becomes 'Thomas the Dreamer', with yet another view of the legend.
The extensive written material accompanying Bairn's Kist invites the listener or reviewer to 'have a listen, perhaps even regress a little and relive musical memories'. For this reviewer, not the most endearing invitation, as the 25 songs featured include at least two examples of those I most detested during the singing lessons I dreaded throughout primary school.
My first-glance assessment also revealed much in the way of educational management guru-speak, such as 'conceived as a resource', and Partnership (with a capital 'P', always a bad sign) as well as buzz-words like 'Arts Officer'. As a result it took a long time to get my head round the idea of listening to this one, which was a great shame, as once you've read the small print and taken the CD and the concept (see, I'm at it now!) in its proper context, you will find ' as I did ' that it has an immense amount to offer, both educationally and from an entertainment viewpoint.
The CD is the brainchild of Urray-based traditional singer and School of Scottish Studies graduate Christina Stewart, and is the second such venture aimed at childcare groups caring for younger children (kist o dreams, based on her Learning with Lullabies project was the first), but it is also a treasure-trove of Scottish Songs for parents, grantparents, aunts and uncles ' and indeed anyone with a young child to look after. As a result, folk of a certain age will readily recall words and tunes they thought buried since their childhood: 'The Fairy Lullaby', for example, turns out to be a dirge called in my day something like 'I Left my Baby Lying There', a title and story which so filled me with juvenile rage about a mother so inept as to abandon her child to be eaten by wolves, kidnapped by a rival clan, or butchered by redcoats. Much better, I thought at the time, to send round the Fiery Cross than moon around composing dismal lyrics.
Even 'Aiken Drum', another song I hated with a passion many decades ago, is updated for the 21st century, with contemporary classroom items pressed into service to clothe him, instead of gude saut meat and other equally incomprehensible elements of his wardrobe. It's perhaps worth mentioning that Mr Drum's own musical tastes have not evolved in any way, however, as he still plays upon his ladle; obviously some folk can never be telt.
For minders of small children among the Magazine's readers the CD offers a terrific opportunity to lead small charges into a culture other than the ephemeral false standards of 'reality' television and equally undesirable musical and social trends. To this end, the CD comes with a comprehensive booklet explaining how to get the best out of it to interest and amuse ' and educate through enjoyment ' children from pre-school age, or indeed from age zero, just about; and which have been tried and tested in workshops across the country with children up to 11, using different selections for different ages, naturally.
What is more, proud grannies and parents alike can be sure that what their offspring is learning is well worth having: not only enduring ' all the songs are distinctly Trad ' but also part of their children's heritage as Scots, an entitlement which is too often regarded by the self-proclaimed forward thinkers who proliferate among society's movers and shakers as too socially non-inclusive (I'm at it again!).
Such a comprehensive undertaking is not just the work of one hand; several talents are involved.
Christina Stewart is a traditional singer from the Highlands who passes on the tradition through seminars, classes, workshops and activity sessions for participants ranging from three years to 'third age'.
From a family of singers in Torridon and Skye, she is a Traditional Song graduate from Edinburgh University. Her 2004 project kist o dreams aimed to promote the singing of lullabies through providing resources such as the kist o dreams CD and www.kistodreams.org website and a programme of presentations and classes for community groups and parenting groups as well as music festivals and other events.
A former vocalist with Mouth Music, one of Ross-shire's own A'Seinn Quines and a founder member of the Feisty Besoms, Christina has collaborated with storytellers Ian Stephen and Whigmaleerie (Lesley MacLean).
Bill Taylor, a specialist in performance of ancient harp music from Ireland, Scotland and Wales, is one of the very few investigating these repertoires on medieval gut-strung harps, wire-strung clarsachs and Renaissance harps with buzzing bray pins. Resident in Scotland for many years, he teaches and performs with the Highland early music group Coronach and the duo The Art of Musick. Bill teaches community music classes through Feis Rois, is a guest lecturer at the Royal Scottish Academy in Glasgow and has regularly appeared at the Edinburgh International Harp Festival.
Multi-instrumentalist and producer Bob Pegg founded the cult folk/rock band Mr Fox in the 1970s. In 1990 he moved to the Highlands, becoming Ross and Cromarty's musician in residence until the council was dissolved. He also performs regularly as a storyteller, and runs workshops for children, especially at Whitby Folk Week, where his 'Children In Performance' sessions have been running to great acclaim for many years.
Olivia Ross plays fiddle and viola. She came up through the residential music tuition of Feis Rois, and last year gained First Class Honours from Newcastle's Traditional Music course. She now splits her time between her home in the Highlands and her music projects in Newcastle.
To sum up: not only is this a valuable collection of traditional bairny songs but can be a significant influence in making young children aware that their background and their ancestors offer interest and excitement. And you can't argue with that: even I was impressed!
Living Tradition Magazine
Bairn's Kist is a collection of twenty five traditional Scottish and Gaelic lullabies, dandling songs, singing games and playground songs ' aimed at young children and their parents, teachers, nursery workers and carers. Anyone, in fact, who wishes to pass on the song tradition to young children.
Christina Stewart is a well respected Highlands-based singer and educator who travels widely to teach, and whose students speak of her in high regard. The album is supported by the Care and Learning Alliance, the Scottish Arts Council and the Highland Council.
The songs are presented in a direct, engaging and unfussy manner. Christina sings in both Scots and Gaelic in her lovely voice, attracting the listener immediately. Her simple style of presentation encourages both children and adults alike to interact with each other through songs, games and rhymes. Each song is accompanied by full lyrics and suggestions as to how they should be shared ' for example, by using lots of eye contact, by teaching children to take turns to sing, illustrating the difference between quiet and loud (a crucial lesson for children, that one!), the value of role play, and the simple joy of word games. There are even helpful notes giving advice about how to plan your singing sessions (best time of day, most suitable songs to choose, how to add variety) and 'warm up' notes are also offered.
Christina is joined by Bill Taylor on clarsach, Olivia Ross on fiddle & viola, and Bob Pegg who plays a multitude of instruments, including penny whistle, mouth organ, concertina and jew's harp. The songs are lovely, some well known, some less so ' I enjoyed Ali Bally Bee and its lyric about the mysterious Coultart's candy; there are many great tunes here that children will really enjoy, including A Sailor Went To Sea, Aiken Drum, The Herrin's Heids, and Shetland cradle song Minnie o Shirva. I particularly love Christina's quiet, understated but direct presentation of the Gaelic songs ' she conveys the musicality of the Gaelic language beautifully.
Her approach to sharing her love for these songs is absolutely spot on ' her positive and proactive attitude, coupled with the care she invests in them, encourages a real love of language, melody, rhythm and rhyme, and she makes music that's lively and fun. Bairn's Kist is a lovely follow-up to Kist O' Dreams. I like this album very much indeed, and it's exactly the sort of gift I would choose for anyone with young children who wants to share a love of traditional music with them.
This collection of 25 traditional songs is geared toward young children. Some songs are performed in English, some in Scots Gaelic, but all are selected with an eye - or, rather, an ear - toward child development of strong family relationships, a sense of rhythm, intellectual concepts such as counting and animal sounds, recognition of different musical textures and verbal skills, including an introduction to the Gaelic language. Liner notes have suggestions for movements to accompany the songs and ideas for incorporating musical tuition into a childcare setting.
Christina Stewart is mother of two and graduate of Edinburgh University and the School of Scottish Studies whose previous album of lullabies, Kist o Dreams, has launched a successful program in Scotland for training parents and infants together to appreciate and share traditional songs.
Well, those are all reasons to buy this wonderful CD for preschoolers, but certainly there's an over-whelming reason that it need not be limited to that audience: The music is delightful. Picture, if you will, warm, sweet, organic honey drizzling slowly from a honey wand... Stewart's voice is the aural equivalent. Her clear, soothing voice enfolds the listener in the song. Tasteful accompaniment is provided by Bob Pegg (recorder, concertina, harmonica and more), Bill Taylor (clarsachs), and Olivia Ross (fiddle and viola), but Stewart's voice is always front and center, with simple instrumental accompnaiment adding variety and texture. An absolutely stunning project, not just for kids.Why should they have all the fun'
A fantastic collection of Scottish children's songs from Christina who, apart from singing the words, teaches the wee ones the actions handed down through the traditional methods. In the accompanying sleeve notes, she explains every movement for parents and teachers to follow at home. With help from the Scottish Arts Council, the Highland Council and the Care and Learning Alliance, this would be an excellent CD for every child in Scotland. It is the songs your granny used to sing to you and, with 25 tracks, I can highly recommend this as one of the finest examples of traditional toddlers songs ever.
Green Man Review
Bairn's Kist is much more than just a collection of songs -- it is a product of a worthy and interesting project that Christina Stewart, a traditional singer from the Scottish Highlands, has been involved in over the last few years. In 2004, after around five years of research, Christina realised the first stage of her project, Kist O Dreams, aimed at promoting the singing of traditional lullabies. The CD Kist O Dreams was originally made available free-of-charge to new parents in the Scottish Highlands, though its popularity ensured that it would eventually become available commercially. Further resources were also made available including a Web site and a series of presentations and classes for parents and children across the Scottish Highlands.
The project has now moved on, emerging as Learning With Lullabies, supported by the Scottish Highland's Care and Learning Alliance. Christina has another round of seminars lined up at which the attendees will be presented with a copy of this latest CD, Bairns Kist. This latest recording is a collection of lullabies, dandling songs, action songs and singing games, firmly rooted in the Scottish tradition. Apart from the fact that this represents an entertaining and appealing compilation of material, there are serious intentions underpinning its creation. The purpose of the project, through this remarkable recording, is the promotion of social interaction, confidence-building and communication. I won't go into any more detail here, but the Kist O Dreams Web site gives greater detail of the various benefits to both parent and child.
So, what do we have here musically' Well, to start with, Christina Stewart's exquisitely pure and clear voice lends the perfect intimacy to these traditional songs. Christina sings largely unaccompanied and when she is accompanied it is delightfully minimalist -- Bill Taylor's delicate clarsach, Olivia Ross' graceful fiddle and viola, and Bob Pegg playing a range of instruments from whistles to concertinas. Any instrumentation is simple and perfectly accomplished, firmly emphasizing the timing of the melody. A number of the songs are sung in Gaelic, and even those sung in English have a distinct Scottish dialect. Lively songs such as "Ali Bally Bee," "Hey Jock Ma Cuddy," and "The Herrin's Heids" are completely engaging, even to an adult's ears, and will provide as many opportunities for adults to reminisce as they will for children to play.
As well as a background to the project and suggestions as to how this valuable and charming resource can best be used, the sleeve notes provide full lyrics and suggested actions or games to accompany each song. Bairns Kist represents a most delightful and laudable collection. I don't have children myself, but to me this sounds like the perfect antidote to the likes of Teletubbies or SpongeBob SquarePants.