Over the last year it's been pertinent to me how much I need to allow space to celebrate and to grieve in my life. To mourn and rejoice, the small silent things as well as the big wonderful or tragic events. So I've been allowing space for it and I feel that it's allowed a flow in my life even if some feelings return a bit more than I expected, they do change eventually if I really listen to them. In this way I think music has been my greatest friend as it lets me speak, sing or scream my joy and my sorrow, so generously. So much music of the world is an expression of joy or grief....certainly the music I make is often the latter, often I feel like it helps me get things figured out, expressed or even exorcised!

But most often in our society today, we tend to express our celebration's together and mourn alone silently, most of us are welcome to be seen smiling yet shy of being seen crying. But until about 50-100 years ago in highland Scotland and Ireland there was a practice known as Keening or Caoineadh where mourning was done together by singing, sounding, wailing, chanting, ranting and reciting poetry. In my recent performance of 'Remembering Brigid' I told the story of the Second battle of Maig Turid in which Brigid keens the death of her son. In the performance we performed a mini keen a very shortened simple attempt at something that is not really a performance (and infact really needs the a dead body in the room for) but we tried to do it at least with a little musical authentically. So I spent time researching this ancient practice and found a useful recording on the Tobar an Dualchais website and a variation in speaking with our very own alive archive Alan MacDonald, so this gave me a sense of the repetitive sounds and layering that we might do but still I was uncertain about the structure. I read various articles but a Masters paper written by Michelle Collins gave me the most direction detailing different stages from beginning with chanting, then going up in pitch and including words; poetry, rants, praises of the deceased, then on to a wordless section that induced tears and real letting go of grief. Serendipitously on the same evening as we performed 'Remembering Brigid' in Edinburgh Michelle Collins presented a radio program about Keening on RTE here is a link to it: 


In the broadcast Michelle interviews an old priest who remembers on the Aaron Islands people doing it 40 odd years ago. He shared that subsequent to the practice stopping he noticed how much more people struggled after the death of a loved one, more frequently needing medication. I imagine such a practice was once practiced much more widely than Gaelic speaking communities in Britain and Ireland as there is evidence of similar practices around the world.

A few years ago I was listening to a Radio 3 program which traveled with a British Karnatic musician to his homeland in Northern Sri Lanka just a few years after the end of the civil war. Once there they interviewed some Tamil woman about a tradition of lullaby singing particular to the region but in so doing the woman started to keen their loved ones who had died in the recent war. I was busy cleaning whilst listening to this but when they started keening I had to stop what I was doing and weep the sound so moved me. It's not the kind of sound that is necessarily beautiful but was powerful and cathartic and very human.

I don't know how we can translate any of this into our modern times but the founder of Non-Violent Communication Marshall Rosenberg recommends a daily or even moment to moment practice of mourning or celebration. By getting in touch with our feelings and needs as they come and go, as they are met or not met. In this way giving voice to longing or satisfaction, joy or despair and letting it breath out. I wonder if he's not onto something there. But either way it's a reminder to me of how much our culture has changed and that it is the birth right of us all; to sing, to cry, to celebrate.



AuthorSusanna Holland

A new year, a new page and a new performance with people I havn't worked with before. After the first rehearsals yesterday with Morag Brown and Kate Walker I'm feeling excited for my performance 'Remembering Brigit' as it comes together before we perform it in less than two weeks time. I've been gathering and pulling in lots of juice in the National Library on George the IVth Bridge this week, getting stuck into old books. They are so fun and exciting I never thought I would enjoy reading old books so much, I could almost get into being an academic there just endlessly reading old texts, writing old stories a-new but ah I do remember the real purpose is to take it out into the world and get those book murmurings out to others and onto the stage! (Defiantly recommend the national library though if you need to focus, it's perfectly quite). But the highlight was working on an 1880 copy of the Book of Leinster which even if I couldn't read half of it, the writing is amazing and to see monk's doodles from almost 1000 years ago is pretty cool but especially it was just so good to read stories from as close to the horses mouth as I can get!

Here in Scotland I didn't think we'd ever see an end to such dark days in the last month of endless rain seemed to never end I was wondering where this new year was going but then in the last few days the skies have cleared and it really does feel like we're starting to see a beginning to the return of the light even with the beautiful carpet of snow I feel awoken, then I saw my first snow drop too! Is Brigit whispering in spring already? I think I'm feeling her call!.... but then I'm not so deluded to think this is it winter done, I suppose as long as I can keep that light shinning inside I'll see this winter through and this performance is definatly giving me passion to do so with the help of Brigit's stories. 


AuthorSusanna Holland

Thank you thank you to all who came to see me perform at the festival this year, it was really lovely to share my music with the people who came to listen and to sing and receive the responses from so many. I was exhausted at the end and after nursing a heavy cold hit the hills for some silence and poetry writing. And as the first colours of autumn touch the trees I'm withdrawing from performing for a while to focus on completing the paperwork for psychotherapy training. However the poetry is alive in me at the moment and I'm sure some of it will turn into new songs when I get my voice back and take flight! Here's a wee Haiku I wrote while watching the swallows at play:

Small wings they fly far

Swallows swoop to Africa

Don't give up too soon

In that spirit I won't be giving up singing but standing back from performing as often as I have this last summer, however I will be performing on Halloween as a part of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival with Marion Kenny, singing ballads next to her stories which will be a new collaboration I'm looking forward to.

AuthorSusanna Holland

I will begin a run of gigs at Edinburgh Festival Fringe soon. Come and see me if you're in Edinburgh or come to Edinburgh if you're able! I'll be accompanied by Dave Beards on tabla and Blue Florian on percussion on a few separate yet to be finalised dates, to add good beats to the mix! But mostly over the course of the 18 performances I will be performing a unique solo set especially for the Fringe; a combination of traditional and original material.

Date: 5th­24th of August (not Mondays 11th and 18th)

Time: 3.45pm-4.45pm

Venue: Laughing Horse @ The Cellar Monkey,

Venue 293, 15 Argyle Place,

EH9 1JJ, Edinburgh

Cost: Free/ Donation

In other news I recently recorded a new piece of music with amazing percussionist Blue Florian and will soon begin recording with Dave Beards on tabla and sitar who I have long since played with as a part of Shiva Moon. Watch here for further details as to when and how I get on!


AuthorKen Seiler