You know Macpherson’s Rant (aka Macpherson’s Lament)?

In a recent comment to my ‘Practising What I Preach‘ blogpost, Calum alluded to the  Waterson’s style of harmonising traditional tunes:-

“I’ve always thought one of the best approaches to harmonising traditional song (tunes) is that of the Watersons: lots of octave unisons, parallel motion, and general whooping. A million miles from SATB but for me a very powerful approach.”

A quick search found me a 1965 recording of the Waterson family performing “Thirty foot trailer”, by Ewan MacColl.  Sure enough, their close harmony was exactly as Calum described, with cadences generally harmonised, but a fair bit of unison singing, too.  The guitar harmonies are very static in this song, so it couldn’t be further removed from the “harmonise every chord” homophony of the Macpherson’s Rant setting that had caused me so much pain on Thursday evening!

This morning, our minister introduced the hymn by reassuring the congregation that they’d probably heard the tune ‘Macpherson’s Rant’ performed by The Corries, a folk duo.  I found a fairly recent recording on YouTube this afternoon, but I doubt it would have helped much – the tune has been pulled about a fair bit.  The harmonic pace was even simpler than mine – a chord to a bar – and singing was either solo or unison.

Actually, I think my organ arrangement worked pretty well.  Sometimes we do use a band in worship, but they have a piano, bass guitar, one or more melody instruments, percussion and amplification.  A whole church congregation wouldn’t be particularly well-supported by a single acoustic guitar, as performed by these two historic ensembles.  Times change!  Similarly, if I had tried a Watersons-style harmonisation, the choir wouldn’t have been powerful enough to support a whole congregation singing the tune, and whereas guitar strumming effectively marks the beats in the bar for a small ensemble, you cannae strum an organ! So – I stand by my choice of unison singing, and a harmonic pace halfway between SATB chorale and the chord-a-bar folk idiom.

I may have another arrangement to do this week – pending confirmation – but this one might just be an organ arrangement rather than a vocal accompaniment.  We’ll see!


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