Here’s a Gaelic proverb:
Is iomadh urchair tha dol ‘s an fhraoch.
(Many a shot goes into the heather.)
In other words, when you hunt, you miss. And if you fire indiscriminately, paying no attention to when or why or how, not trying to figure out why you missed, and not turning to anyone else for feedback, you’re going to continue putting a lot of shot into the heather.
In my personal life, I’ve been sending a fair amount into the ground lately because I’m learning something new. And as I think is often the case, “learning something” really means “learning several different things, and also learning how they work together.”
I joined a choir.
I haven’t joined a choir before, so I’ve been learning different but interrelated things:
- The lyrics to songs I didn’t know (which so far is “all the songs we’ve been practicing”)
- The melodies of songs I didn’t know (see above)
- The tenor part for these same songs
Those are all examples of explicit knowledge: they’re factual things. Learning the tenor part, for example, means learning the succession of tones.
I’m having to learn some tacit skills as well, such as what Maria von Trapp called “minding your own business” — concentrating on your part when other choir members who are not tenors are singing right next to you.
In addition I have to learn pronunciation, because I’ve joined Guth nan Eilean (the Voice of the Island), the Victoria Gaelic Choir.
It’s been a great experience. I ran into the choir when they were performing at the Victoria Highland Games last May. I was especially struck by how clearly they enjoyed what they were singing. It probably helped that I recognized two or three of the songs they sang.
It didn’t surprise me to discover there’s a worldwide community of groups who thrive Gaelic song. I’m especially impressed by people like Kathleen MacInnes and Mary Ann Kennedy who’ve made their language part of their careers.
No, not many people speak Scottish Gaelic. I can’t, except for a few traveler phrases and a handful of songs. But I always want to know the meaning of any song I sing in another language, and the Victoria Gaelic Choir gives me another reason to do that.
Here’s a whole flock of choirs at the Mòd (Gaelic festival) in Paisley, Scotland, last year, singing the unofficial anthem of such choirs:
Togaibh i, togaibh i, cànan ar dùthcha,
Togaibh a suas i gu h-inbhe ro-chliùitich;
Togaibh gu daingeann i ‘s bithibh rith’ bàidheil,
Hi ho rò, togaibh i, suas leis a’ Ghàidhlig!
Praise it, praise it, the language of our country
Give it honourable status
Promote it with spirit, and treat it with affection,
Hi horo, praise it, up with the Gaelic.
‘S i cànan na h-òige; ‘s i cànain na h-aois;
B’ i cànan ar sinnsir; b’ i cànan an gaoil;
Ged tha i nis aost’, tha i reachdmhor is treun;
Cha do chaill i a clì ‘s cha do strìochd i fo bheum.
It’s the language of youth, it’s the language of the aged,
it was the language of our ancestors, it was the language they loved
Although it is now old, it is robust and strong
It has not lost its power, and it has not surrendered to misfortune.