MacEdward Leach and the Songs of Atlantic Canada

Cape Breton Psalm Precenting

The Church at Lake Ainslie. Photo by Stacey MacLeanThe singing or "precenting" of psalms has always been an important part of Presbyterian Scottish culture. Usually performed in a church setting, the first line of a given Psalm is |sung by a cantor and then repeated by the congregation. Precenting developed mainly out of the need to engage a mostly illiterate congregation in the singing of religious texts in church. The practice, known as "lining out" in the Southern States, has its roots in the English and Scottish Lowland musical tradition with such standard tunes as"Martyrdom", "New London" and "Kilmarnock" originally appearing as metrically simple pieces.

Upon their arrival and dissemination in the Highlands however, they became stretched and ornamented to such an extent that the original tune is barely audible. What results is a highly individuated but group performance of usually two to four verses of a Psalm, lasting up to twenty minutes.

Psalm singing was common in Presbyterian regions of Cape Breton into the 70s. The decline of the Gaelic language however and Gaelic oral tradition as a whole meant that fewer and fewer community members were competent to "precent" in the traditional manner. It remains a common form of worship in many of the Scottish Hebrides.

Dhè Bhetel (O God of Bethel)

MacLeod, Malcolm Angus

Psalm 23

MacKinnon, Alex

Psalm 68

Morrison, Dan

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