Robert Burns, Altan, and Mary Black
Words and music have their own unique connection. There is plenty of music of all sorts with no words attached, of course, as there is poetry which may hold its own rhythms but does little to evoke melody. Then there are lyrics which stand on their without music, and those that don’t, as well as poems which have been set, successfully and less to, to music. Not to mention the melodies of familiar songs which are sometimes challenging to hear without adding the words in your head as you listen.
These are all tools of the artist, whether that artist is poet or songwriter or composer or all three. It is poetry month in the United States, which is what has this on my mind. Are song lyrics poetry set to music.? I get exasperated when people say this. They can be, certainly, but that’s not the way the making of a song works, even if it is a poem being set to music. There’s a connection between lyric and sound of lyric, note and sound of music, which makes the song a unique creation of its own, through alchemy which takes place in the ideas of the artist, and then is created anew each time a song is shared and heard.
To go along with these thoughts, the Irish band Altan offers Green Grow the Rashes O by Robert Burns. Mairéad Ni Mhaonaigh, who would usually have done the singing, was losing her voice that night, and so old friend Irish singer Mary Black stepped in -- and came in for a a bit of ragging from the Scottish crowd (this was a concert during Celtic Connections at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall) for having the lyrics on a paper to refer to. See what she does with them though.