Sunday, May 5, 2013

Scottish and Irish Folk Music

Valuable aspects of culture like folklore and folk music need to be taught to later generations and passed on through the ages in order to keep them alive.  During the seventies, a rebirth of Scottish and Irish folk music took place.  Among the musicians who had the "torch passed" down to their generation, was one of my favorite Scottish musicians, Dougie MacLean.  I have been to one of his concerts when he was on tour, and met him.  In fact, my mom talked to him.  She has been a fan of Dougie's since she was fifteen.  Hopefully some day I will get to see him again at one of his concerts in Scotland.  Dougie MacLean is a Scottish singer and song-writer who continued the folk tradition by learning folk songs from the older generation of his people.  One of the Scottish song-writers Dougie MacLean and all of the other folk musicians are influenced by is Robert Burns, who wrote such classic and poetic folk songs as "Ye Banks and Braes O' Bonnie Doon", which was printed in the year 1792.  Robert Burns is a hero of the Scottish people and of working people everywhere.

Dougie MacLean has also written many new folk songs, which I love.  My favorite songs by him include "Ready for the Storm", "Turning Away", "Talking With My Father", "The Gael", and "Caledonia".

"The Gael" was the soundtrack (that Dougie MacLean composed) for the 1992 film adaptation of The Last of the Mohicans, based on a book I have read most of but have yet to finish, The Last of the Mohicans by the great American writer, James Fenimore Cooper.  I saw the film, and although it changed a lot of things in the book, even to the extent of completely changing one of the characters, I enjoyed it and thought it was beautifully made.  The soundtrack for The Last of the Mohicans is one of my most favorite film soundtracks ever.  It's epic and emotional all at once.  It fits the movie perfectly.

"Caledonia" is a Scottish folk ballad that Dougie MacLean wrote in 1977, about his love for his homeland, Scotland (Caledonia is a name for Scotland from Roman times).  This is Dougie MacLean's most well-known song, and has become a sort of national anthem for Scotland.  Every time I listen to this song I feel proud to have some Scottish blood in me.  It also makes me feel homesick, even though I have not been able to visit Scotland yet, though I plan to later in life.  I feel countries of my ethnicity are where I belong and I hope to visit them again (Scotland for the first time, but it would not be the first time I have visited Ireland).

Dougie MacLean sings Caledonia in the video below:

Andy Irvine (from London, England) and Paul Brady (from Northern Ireland) are folk singers who sing traditional Irish folk songs.  I have had a CD of a collection of their songs since I was very little.  I enjoy listening to their songs because it soothes me by making me think of my homeland, and where I belong.  One of my favorite songs sung by Andy Irvine and Paul Brady is "Arthur MacBride" (1976):

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Before I Could Read

Even before I could read the words, I loved looking at the illustrations in picture books and novels.  They contributed to bringing the story alive for me, and inspired my imagination.  Because of the personal tie I have to all of the books from my childhood, many of my favorite illustrators are those that did the illustrations for those books.  In this post, I'm going to take a look in a book (to quote Reading Rainbow) and show the different art styles in books I loved when I was little.

Let's begin with what was my favorite picture book for a long time, Buried Moon, a less-known fairy tale retold by Margaret Hodges and illustrated by Jamichael Henterly.  I love the atmosphere created by these illustrations.  They're eerie, detailed, and fit the tone of the fairy tale perfectly.  Below are some pictures I took of some of the illustrations.

Then of course there is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis.  The Chronicles of Narnia are a childhood favorite of mine.  The illustrations in my copy of this novel are beautiful, and I think match the spirit and personality of C. S. Lewis' story.  They each contribute to the story telling and help the story unfold.  Pictures tell a story just as much as words can.

 Another childhood favorite of mine was Lassie Come Home, by Eric Knight.  Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight is a beautiful, tear-jerking classic story that was published in 1940, about the loyalty of a rough collie to her friend.  When I was little, I had a picture book edition of this story by Rosemary Wells that I loved, which is beautifully illustrated by Susan Jeffers.

The Wild Swans, a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, is a favorite of mine.  I had a picture book version of his story when I was little, by Marlee Alex.  The illustrations are by Juan Alonso Diaz-Toledo.

The picture above was my favorite illustration in this picture book.  Ever since I first saw it when I first opened the book to read it, I have always wanted to have pearls in my hair like the heroine, Princess Elisa, does in The Wild Swans.

Being Irish and Scottish, I had plenty of Irish and Scottish story books as a little kid.  One of my favorite Irish fairy tales to read (or admire the illustrations of) was Finn MacCoul and His Fearless Wife:  A Giant of a Tale from Ireland.  Robert Byrd both retold this story and did the illustrations for his picture book, which are lovely and match the mood of the story.

A Scottish folk tale that I loved when I was little was (and still is of course) Tam Lin.  I still treasure this book, a retelling of an ancient Scottish ballad in the form of a picture book by Jane Yolen, and illustrated by Charles Mikolaycak.  The illustrations in this picture book are beautiful and tell the story so well.

Two of my favorite illustrators are K. Y Craft and Gennady Spirin.  Both of these illustrators have done the illustrations for Russian fairy tales in picture books.  I love their style, partly because I love Russian art style and partly because I find their talent to be very impressive.

Illustrations from Philipok, a story by Leo Tolstoy, retold by Ann Keay Beneduce and illustrated by Gennady Spirin:

And some illustrations from another picture book about a Russian legend called The Sea King's Daughter, retold by Aaron Shepard and also illustrated by Gennady Spirin:

I love the soft lines and dreamy colors of Gennady Spirin's illustrations.  I also love K. Y. Craft's art style.  She did the illustrations for one of my favorite picture books, a retelling by Marianna Mayer of the Russian tale Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave.

And lastly, here are some illustrations from my Cinderella picture book, illustrated by John Patience.  I love these illustrations because of the texture of the dress Cinderella wears, which seems like a bubbly, soapy, multi-color liquid.  I always thought the illustrations in this book were beautiful, unique, and well done.