Listening to the joyful sounds of the Ar n-Òran Gaelic choir as they rehearse in Canada’s capital city is a powerful experience.
The infant choir, born in Ottawa in June 2009, has already won awards in Scotland’s Royal National Mòd, and in similar events in North America. Its 2009 disc, An Toiseach, sold out. A-rithist, the second, is planned for October, but the music is best enjoyed in person.
Standing in the same room as the singers, it’s a privilege to listen to the velvet consonants of the ancient language being expressed in a new country.
As the only Gaelic choir in the province of Ontario, the members of Ar n-Òran (it means Our Song) have a unique role. They’re passionate about promoting Gaelic, which is particularly interesting as not all of them have Celtic roots.
Randolph Waugh, whose ancestors emigrated to Canada from Tiree and Islay in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, is choir founder.
“The energy in our group is tremendous and has led to our many successes,” says Waugh, adding, “I am Canadian born but with a Gaelic heart.”
Like Waugh, singer Maureen Culhane has Celtic roots, hailing from Nova Scotia on Canada’s east coast. Krista Grant, Mike and Kathy Bleakney are also from the east coast; New Brunswick in their case, where they studied Gaelic. But Waugh’s wife, Olga comes from the Ukraine and only started learning Gaelic in2009.
For choir director, Fiona McDonald, Ar n-Òran deepens her personal Celtic connection. McDonald was born into a Scots-speaking family near Glasgow but moved to Canada when she was five. She wasn’t taught the language, but always remembered the sounds of Gaelic as spoken by her grandfather.
In her twenties, McDonald moved to a farm in Glengarry County, Ontario and there heard, “folks speaking the language my grandfather didn’t feel it worth learning.”
In 1992, the award-winning soprano joined the Glengarry Gaelic Choir, where she became director and grew serious about learning Gaelic. She joined Ar n-Òran in2009, as a singer and assistant director, progressing to directorship in2011.
Stéphane Lebeau, Julie Desrosiers and Stacey Mathews are bi-lingual Canadians, raised speaking English and French. For them, Ar n-Òran offers the chance to explore a tradition they’ve long appreciated.
“Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a love of the Celtic music sound; everything from the old traditional tunes to modern Celtic performers,” explains Lebeau.
Waugh says the music and language belong to the next generation.
“When my first child was born, a switch was activated inside, and I knew that the torch for Gaelic would not be relit in our family if I didn’t step up to the challenge and ensure that my children have a strong cultural, linguistic, and musical sense of who they are,” he says.
For that reason, Ar n-Òran has begun a junior choir. ~ By Reuel S. Amdur