Scottish singer and actor Gillebrìde MacMillan first performed at the annual Pipes of Christmas concerts in 2014. “I really didn’t know what to expect,” he said, in an email interview, of the event, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. “Seeing thousands of people gathering in New York and New Jersey for a concert of pipes, carols and readings in English, Scots and Gaelic was a sight to behold.
“The pipes go so well with the brass and percussion and it is a joy to sing the arrangements. The programme is carefully curated and the preparation time put into that means that the concerts are fantastic events.”
At this year’s shows, MacMillan — who played Gwyllyn the Bard in the first season of the Starz television series, “Outlander” — heads a cast that also will include James Robinson and Andy Weir (both from the film “Braveheart”), fiddler Calum Pasqua, harpist Jennifer Port, guitarist Steve Gibb, piper Ben Power, the Pipe Major Kevin Ray Blandford Memorial Pipe Band and others. Shows are scheduled for Central Presbyterian Church in Summit, Dec. 16 at 2 and 7 p.m., as well as the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York, Dec. 15 at 2 p.m., with proceeds supporting various music music education and cultural causes. For information, visit pipesofchristmas.com.
Gaelic is MacMillan’s first language, and Gaelic songs and traditions always have been part of his life. “Baile nam bàrd (Village of the Bard)” — the first single of his latest album, Freumhan Falaichte (Hidden Roots) — was inspired by a poem that Bob Currie of Summit, the producer of the Pipes of Christmas concerts (and the head of the international Clan Currie Society), wrote for a 2012 Clan Currie Society event in Scotland.
The song “was inspired by Bob’s poem and by the distinguished history of the bardic family,” wrote MacMillan. “I became aware of Bob’s poem when he asked me to translate it for an event the Clan Currie were holding. I was very impressed with the poetry both in terms of the sentiment and the imagery of the lyrics. I was happy with the translation. Then, Bob was a great help in supporting the album.”
The first line of Currie’s poem, MacMillan said, was “swirling in my head for a few weeks and that gave me the melody line. I then adapted parts of Bob’s poem to create the song. I wanted this song to have a really contemporary feel as Clan Currie have done so much in recent years to promote Gaelic song and music — both in terms of promoting new compositions but also helping people learn the ancient skills of poetry, clàrsach (harp) playing and in developing a series of symposia to widen knowledge of Gaelic traditions and customs.”
MacMillan said he thought Scottish and Irish people living in the United States “have a good appreciation of traditional Celtic music. They may not be so familiar with the Christmas and festive songs from that tradition, though. … TV shows like ‘Outlander’ and movies such as ‘The Bruce’ and ‘Outlaw King’ mean that Celtic music is featured in high-quality productions. That can only be good for raising awareness of the beautiful (Celtic) music and culture.”
For a chance to win two tickets to the 7 p.m. Dec. 16 show in Summit, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org by midnight Dec. 11, with the word “Pipes” in the subject line.
Here is MacMillan’s video for “Baile nam bàrd”: