A few Frequently Asked Questions.
background pattern for this page?
It's the Celtic knotwork pattern which Joscelin and I have on our engagement
the name Cockburn?
Cockburn is a Scottish name from the borders and is pronounced "coburn".
There is no Cockburn clan as it isn't a Highland family. There is however
a tartan (viewable from my homepage) but like most tartans it probably
isn't very authentic and is a post-1745 invention.
What does your
"Sgrìobh thugam 'sa Ghàidhlig ma 'se do thoil e" mean?
"Write to me in Gaelic please"
does your signature
"Find me in E-mail addresses of the rich and famous"
This is a book published by Addison-Wesley which somehow I managed to get
into which surprised me as I don't think I'm very famous and I'm certainly
not rich! Addison-Wesley put me in without me knowing as a "Deep Thinker"
because of my Gaelic connections, apparently! The book has about 1000 entries
and I appear just after Bill Clinton.
What do I do?
For money, I develop multi-tier e-commerce systems in Java. I have my own
PC at home which I use as well for work related stuff.
How did I learn
My first Gaelic class was in November 1990 at Wansfell College in Essex, near the M11 and M25. We studied Can Seo lessons 1-10. After that I went to back to Wansfell in Feb 1991 to do the remaining Can Seo lessons 11 to 20. Between November 1990 and March 1991 I studied Gaelic at the City Literary Institute, Stukely Street, Holborn, London. Since then, I've learnt Gaelic through occasional weekend classes, Gaelic-L,
the Internet, TV and radio and particularly through songs (London Gaelic choir November 1990 to December 1992 when I moved back to Edinburgh). I got my "Yellow card" (learners) at the Airdrie Mod in 1993 and my "Green Card" (fluent speakers) at the Stirling Mod in May 1995. My first competition was at the Aberfeldy Mod in 96 when I sang a song in an open competition and came third (second in Gaelic).
My interest in Gaelic dates from my time growing up in Dunblane - uamh
bheag is the hill closest to my parent's house. This name (meaning
small cave) is unpronouncable without Gaelic. Similarly, I was interested
in Runrig's music which was untranslated when I bought their albums. I've
since done some translations of those songs.
The National Mod is Scotland's
biggest arts festival (after the Edinburgh Festival, Mayfest and possibly
Celtic Connections). It's held in mid-October over 10 days and the venue
changes from year to year. There are also local Mods which take place generally
in May and June. All Mods are run by
Comunn Gàidhealach. Craig is secretary of the Edinburgh branch
which was restarted in 1995 and since 1997 has its own local Mod. This
mod is run along completely different lines to most mods and is a great
What do you
Solo, it's usually Gaelic. This is because, particularly in Edinburgh no-one
else seems to sing Gaelic in public except at formal concerts or in choirs.
Everyone else sings in Scots down the pub and I feel I'm obliged to sing
in Gaelic to give it a voice. I enjoy singing Scots songs though and go
to an evening class given by the well known Scottish folk singer Christine
Kydd. I was also a member of Voice House, Britain's largest community choir
and they sing in many languages, mostly African and Eastern European but
also English and we've made a few recordings, including a Gaelic waulking
song. The Cockburn family motto is Accendit cantu which is apparently
Latin for "He excites through song". Anyone interested in Voice House -
they on a Wednesday night at 7pm at Churchill Theatre between Holy Corner
and Morningside in Edinburgh
Why don't you
sing in a Gaelic choir?
Bit of a soapbox this. I really enjoyed my time with the London Gaelic
choir, the oldest Gaelic choir in the world and the only one to predate
the Royal National Mod. They're a great bunch of people and I commuted
in from Reading every Tuesday for over two years to attend. I sang with
them at the Dingwall and Oban national Mods. It didn't matter if we didn't
win, we had a good time. After a few months in Scotland though I got a
bit fed up with the whole lot. I was in both the Edinburgh and Lothian
choirs simultaneously and when I admitted this, I found out that Scottish
Gaelic choral singing was more of a team sport than a past-time and you
had to pick sides, not sing with two.
Gaelic choirs are great if you like choral singing, want to learn correct
pronunciation and are highly competitive. They're not that great if you
want to speak Gaelic, learn how to sing, learn traditional singing techniques
or have a wide repertoire. I still can't understand how Voice House can
learn a 4 part song from scratch in less than 2 hours without music, but
Gaelic choirs still struggle with music 6 months into the process and still
make fundamental errors at the Mod (their raison d'etre). Voice house gets
out and performs at Folk Festivals, makes recordings and sings at major
venues around Edinburgh. Gaelic choirs don't exist outside of An Comunn
Gàidhealach Mods and Ceilidhs it seems. Voice house makes people
into singers and teaches them how to sing and apply that to a song. Gaelic
choirs seem to teach a song with no emphasis on freeing the voice, breath
control, tone control or even warming up the body for the physical experience
of singing. They're not so much Gaelic choirs as English medium choirs
with an interest in parrot learning 6 Gaelic songs a year and competing
at a couple of Mods. The 25% or 50% in the choir who are nominally fluent
in Gaelic usually hardly ever bother using the language. It's not that
I am against Gaelic choirs, they help hundreds of people who have an interest
in the song and they helped me. It's just I'm against the narrow view they
have of Gaelic song and the over dominance that form of singing has on
Gaelic song generally. My favourite Gaelic singing experiences have been
in three Gaelic singing classes run by Art
Cormack who sings with Temple
records, was the youngest man to win the Gold medal at the National
Mod. I really enjoy Feis
Rois Inbhich the adult Gaelic festival (held in Dingwall in late
April or early May).
Do you play
I have a keyboard which is useful for melodies and I play the fiddle and
make a terrible racket on it. However the fiddling does allow me to get
onto the excellent Fiddle Force weekends with their wild combination of
fiddling, Gaelic song, Scottish
step-dancing and all night ceilidhs. The first time I sang solo at
a concert was at one of these weekends.
If you'd like more information on Fiddle Force weekends, contact Iain and
Alasdair Fraser's record company Culburnie
Records at email@example.com
as Iain Fraser is usually involved with organising them. Alternatively
you can write (in Gaelic or English) to Rosie Stevenson at:
The Village Store
Tel: 01631 710216
The Weddings FAQ has moved
Craig's Scottish weddings FAQ is now at Scottish Weddings. Please update your links accordingly.
Copyright © 1996-2005 Craig Cockburn