Glasgow Gaelic Musical Association
The Glasgow Gaelic Musical Association was formed in 1893, a year after the founding of the Comunn Gaidhealach.
A History of the GGMA
The Early Years (1893-1918)
Official records of the Association’s activities were not kept until 1897, but a brief resume of the first four years was included as a preface to the first recorded minutes.
The first rules of the Association were approved in 1898 and the objects were approved as being:
“The cultivation and practice of Gaelic songs; the noting down and arranging of songs not yet published; the advancement of the members in the study of music and cultivation of the voice and other component matters which may be agreed upon.”
The fact that no reference was made to the promotion of the Gaelic language is significant, but it is not clear whether the Association believed that this was not an important objective or whether the furtherance of Gaelic was implicitly assumed.
National Mods were an important part of the Association’s activities, but the choir did not attend all Mods in the early years, and its first success in the Lovat and Tullibardine competition was not achieved until 1909 in Stirling. The test pieces were “Is trom leam an àirigh” and “Taobh Abhainn Aora” and the choir, under the baton of William Armstrong, won the shield by two and half marks from the Edinburgh Gaelic Musical Association. William Armstrong also led the Association to its second success three years later at the Mod in Inverness, when the GG was a joint winner of the Lovat and Tullibardine trophy along with the Stornoway Gaelic Choir.
It was reported in the Glasgow Herald of September 1912 that “The judges decided that the only possible disposition of the shield was that in their alphabetical succession, the shield going for six months to Glasgow and for six months to Stornoway.”
The Lovat and Tullibardine competition had ended in a draw on three previous occasions, but 1912 proved to be the last tied result. Shortly afterwards, An Comunn decided that any future tie should be resolved by the singing of the Psalm tune “French”. To date, this tie breaker has not been invoked.
In the early days the Annual Concerts and the support given to the various Highland expatriate societies in Glasgow and the West of Scotland were given as much importance as the National Mod itself.
Among the Societies supported by the Association in the early years, either by sustaining programmes, or appearing as guest artistes were The Glasgow Inverness-shire Association; Govan Gaelic Ceilidh; Sutherland Association; Dunoon branch of An Comunn; The High School Glasgow Class Ceilidh; Concert at “The Clachan” in the 1901 Exhibition;’ The Uist and Barra Association; The Lewis and Harris; Skye; and Mull and Iona Gatherings.
In the years of the First World War, the National Mods were cancelled, and although many of the normal social activities were curtailed, the annual concerts were maintained throughout the period, thanks largely to the efforts of the ladies.
Members who served in the Great War were named in the minutes as Duncan McGilp, John Christie, Neil MacInnes, Donald MacIndeor (who was a Prisoner of War), Neil Gillies, (who was wounded), and John (Kaid) MacLean (who was awarded the Military Medal). Only one member – Mr Hector Morrison – is recorded as having made “the supreme sacrifice”.
In 1915, William Armstrong, who had been the choir conductor for the previous 13 years, retired and was replaced by A. W. Robertson, who resigned two years later. Robertson was succeeded by J. H. Dennistoun who had an equally short tenure, and in June 1919 the committee decided to find a new conductor by placing an advertisement in the Glasgow Herald and The Evening Citizen. Having had three conductors in less than four years, the Association hoped that the new conductor might introduce a period of stability, and from the two people who applied for the position, it was unanimously agreed to appoint J. Norman McConochie.
The McConochie Era (1919-1967)
The post First World War years saw a steady growth in membership and quality of performance. Competition at the National Mods continued to play an important part of each year’s activities, and the results in these years reflect the success of the choir.
At his first Mod in 1919 Mr McConochie led the GG to a credible second place behind the Dundee Gaelic Musical Association, and in the following year in Oban, the tables were turned when Mr McConochie won the first of his ten Lovat and Tullibardine Trophies by defeating the Dundee choir by just half a mark.
Competition at Mods was only part of the Association’s activities, and each year two concerts were staged, one shortly after the Mod and one (the “Annual” concert) on the second Friday in March.
In those pre-television days the choir’s concerts attracted audiences at times exceeding a thousand and the proceeds enabled the Association to finance the attendance of the choir at Mods.
The popularity of the concerts was such that in 1929 the City Hall was filled to capacity, many Patrons were unable to gain admission, and an apology was printed in the Highland Press:
“Glasgow Gaelic Musical Association
The committee of the above Association desire to apologise to those of their Patrons who were unable to obtain admission to the Thirty-Fifth Annual Concert in the City Hall on March 15.”
In 1924 discussion took place as to how the Association could contribute to An Comunn Gaidhealach’s Fund to alleviate distress in the Highlands and Islands.
On the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 the National Mods of An Comunn were cancelled, but the Association continued its activities, though necessarily on a reduced scale, and the ladies of the Association made a vital contribution to keeping the choir alive at this time.
Choir practices were changed to Saturday afternoons due to the problems of “black-out” regulations. The Clydebank Blitz caused the postponement of the Annual Concert in 1941.
The Diamond Jubilee of the Association was celebrated in 1953 and a Civic reception was accorded to the Association by the Lord Provost and Magistrates. This function was “enthusiastically supported by our members,” and in the same year the GG became the first Gaelic Choir to be televised. As winners of the Lovat and Tullibardine Shield in Rothesay the GG appeared on BBC TV and Peter MacLeod had the distinction of being the first Gaelic Precentor to be televised. It was recorded in the minutes that this was “a great honour for the Choir and Peter”.
Joe McConochie retired in 1967, and this year saw his farewell concert to a packed hall. A presentation dinner was held at which “a brilliant assembly drawn from all parts of Scotland and England gathered to play homage to a man who had done more than any other to foster Gaelic Choral Music.”
The Thomson Era (1983-Present)
It was never going to be easy to find a successor to Joe McConochie when he retired after 48 years as conductor. In the period from 1967 until 1975 Raibert MacCallum, Eoin Hamilton, John MacIntosh and Gordon Frier held the position briefly before resigning for a variety of personal and health reasons. Raibert after leaving the GG founded the Glasgow Hebridean Choir. During this period, Norma MacDougall, herself a choir member, conducted for three years. When she retired for domestic reasons, the Association lost the services of a talented musician, who gave faithful service as a chorister, accompanist and conductor. In 1975 the GG was fortunate in securing the services as conductor of Ann Strachan who was an adviser in Music to Glasgow Education Department. She held the post for eight years, and her enthusiasm and drive revived the choir from a very low ebb.
When in 1983 Ann was obliged to retire due to promotion to Director of Music in Lanarkshire, Kenneth Thomson, our present conductor, took on the appointment. Under his baton the choir continued its recovery, participating in, and supporting the activities of the Highland community and societies in Glasgow and the West of Scotland.
1989 and 1990 saw the crowning of his efforts at the National Mods in Stornoway and Govan. At each of these Mods the GG was successful in winning the Lovat and Tullibardine Shield, the Puirt-à-beul and Male Voice competitions and for the first time, the J. N. McConochie Trophy for highest marks in Music. The latter was particularly satisfying.
Previously, the choir’s only venture abroad had been to participate in a Breton Scottish Festival in Morlaix in France in 1947 (in the company of the Glasgow Police Pipe Band and Queens Park Football Club). In 1992 the choir broke new ground by competing, successfully, at the Pan Celtic Festival in Galway and part of the centenary celebrations would be a return visit in April 1993.
Throughout the years, the choir has been privileged to be asked to participate at a number of special events. In 2008, the choir was invited to perform at Proms in the Park - the first Gaelic choir to have done so - singing with NYCOS and the SSO. The recording of "Cànan nan Gàidheal" was used as part of the launch event for the Gaelic TV channel, BBC ALBA.
In 2009, as part of the Celtic Connections festival, the GG was delighted to take part in a special performance at the City Halls. Hallaig – A Celebration of Sorley MacLean was a fantastic programme of Sorley MacLean’s poems set to music by different musicians.
In advance of Glasgow hosting the Commonwealth Games, the choir was once again invited to perform at a Celtic Connections event. The Cluaidh ‘s a’ Cho-Fhlaitheis concert was a celebration of Glasgow’s Gaelic heritage, and the Clyde’s historic role as a gateway to the Commonwealth.
Charity concerts are an important part of the calendar as well. The choir has hosted several concerts in Campbeltown raising funds for Auchinlee Nursing Home, and more recently for the town’s dialysis unit. Events have also been held in aid of Music in Hospitals, a charity which Kenneth has close associations with.
The choir has performed with, or provided accompaniment for a variety of singers over the years, including Karen Matheson, Màiri Macinnes, Ricky Ross from Deacon Blue, The Chieftains and Rod Stewart!
A society such as the GGMA depends for its survival on the work of its members in the organisation and running of the business of the Association and on the regular attendance of members at practices and functions. It is not possible to detail all the members who have served the GG in this way, but the GG has been fortunate in having a loyal band of “supporters”, non singing members, too numerous to detail, who have been the backbone of audiences at concerts and other functions over the years.