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Nova Scotia Group Infuses Scottish Music with a Taste of Jazz

One of the great musical traditions in Nova Scotia and Cape Breton is its Gaelic singing.

That’s pronounced “gallic,” as in the language of the Highlands of Scotland – brought to eastern Canada by the waves of Scottish immigrants.

Mary Jane Lamond is a big name on that scene. She fell in love with Scottish Gaelic songs as a child, and has since dedicated herself to preserving this traditional music.

So she teamed up with her best friend, Wendy MacIsaac – who also happens to be an award-winning fiddler, pianist and step-dancer.

Together they released the album Seinn, which draws on the works of Cape Breton musicians of old and tunes that have survived the generations. It was named one of NPR’s top 10 folk/Americana albums of 2012.

Mary Jane and Wendy, along with guitarist Seph Peters and multi-instrumentalist Cathy Porter are playing all weekend at Irish Fest. Lamond and MacIsaac have performed together for nearly 18 years.

The group performs newly written music as well as traditional songs. Work songs passed down from woman to woman have a rich history in Scottish music.

Alan Lomax said, ‘The work songs of the Scottish gals are the jewels of Western Europe’… They sang to every kind of work they did, so there are a lot of these very rhythmic songs,” Lamond says.

Lamond says Scottish women formed walking groups that sing to work songs to keep a steady pace and as a place for bonding.

She's also found that Scottish music hasn't changed much over the generations. During one of her many trips to Scotland, she met with traditional Scottish singers and she listened to them sing a song that she knew. They sang it nearly identical to how she knew it, showing that after two hundred years, the song was passed down carefully. Lamond says Scotland’s music is a “very conservative tradition.”

The group performs these worker songs and other traditional pieces, but adds jazz flavor inspired by other musicians they have worked with over the years.with a jazz influence.

Mary Jane Lamond and Wendy MacIsaac’s group are performing at Milwaukee’s Irish Fest. The group has just released a new CD, Seinn, featuring guest musicians. They live in Nova Scotia.

Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.