Posted by: liamcassidy | September 18, 2009

A Mòd of Many ‘Firsts’

“The singing here would warm the heart of anybody.” — Donnie Murdo MacLeod

Erin Park competing at the U.S. National Mòd.

Erin Park competing at the U.S. National Mòd.

A teenage first-time competitor and a seasoned Mòd veteran won top awards at the 22nd annual U.S. National Mòd.

Erin Park, a 14-year-old from Phoenixville, Pa., received the Marietta MacLeod Memorial Quaich, presented to the highest-scoring female singer. It was Park’s first time competing at the U.S. National Mòd.

She has been studying Gaelic with Michael MacKay, who won the Herbert P. MacNeal Memorial Quaich, presented to the highest scoring male singer. MacKay has won the coveted top prize several times.

Michael MacKay competing at the U.S. National Mòd.

Michael MacKay competing at the U.S. National Mòd.

It was a Mòd of many firsts. It was the first U.S. Mòd for adjudicator Donnie Murdo MacLeod. It was the first time a family group — Scott Morrison and his daughter, Brenna, and son, Luke — sang on stage at the Mòd. (The Morrisons were part of a Washington, D.C.-based Gaelic children’s program.)

It was the first visit to the United States for Scottish Mòd Gold Medalist Kerrie Finlay and the first U.S. Mòd for her male counterpart Lyle Kennedy.

“The singing here would warm the heart of anybody,” MacLeod said at the close of the final competition Sept. 12. “It was a special competition with some really lovely songs and really lovely moments within the songs.”

Although the U.S. Mòd is of course much smaller than the Scottish event, which lasts an entire week and draws thousands of people, the U.S. event compares favorably and should be better known in Scotland, he said. Much of that has to do with the zeal of the competitors and their hard work in learning the language and songs.

Adjudicator Donnie Murdo MacLeod.

Adjudicator Donnie Murdo MacLeod.

“I’m really impressed that people don’t just go for easy songs, they go for songs that stretch them,” MacLeod said. “One of the things that has struck me about this Mòd is that almost even more than winning prizes people want to get advice and to stretch themselves and keep moving on with new songs. I think that sometimes at home we lose that because there’s so much emphasis on winning.”

The Mòd was attended by 21 people, including the Scottish guests, and featured 11 competitors — a slight increase from last year. “The state of the economy being what it is, we’re grateful so many people came to Ligonier join us at the Mòd,” said Nicholas Freer, Mòd director. “We were especially happy to welcome several people who came just to enjoy the event, not necessarily to compete.”

The Mòd began Friday, Sept. 11, with poetry recitation and storytelling competitions at the Antiochan Village near Ligonier, Pa. Both Morrison children took part in the bàrdachd competition, which was won by Ellen Beard. Freer won the storytelling competition, which featured five competitors. “Storytelling is fast becoming one of our most popular competitions and an event unto itself,” he said.

From left, Scott, Brenna and Luke Morrison at the storytelling competition.

From the left, Scott, Brenna and Luke Morrison at the storytelling competition on Friday.

On Saturday, the competitions moved to the Ligonier Highland Games, where competitors performed slow songs, work songs and mouth music. For the first time, a Gaelic language lesson was offered during the day Saturday at the Mòd to introduce visitors to the Ligonier Highland Games to Gaelic.

On the adjudicator’s bench, MacLeod had his work cut out for him. Only two of the competitors sang the same song, and he had to work with competitors at different levels of fluency and with many different songs. In the end, however, Park and MacKay came out on top. “Everyone is to be congratulated,” MacLeod said. “It’s enormously encouraging to see the work you are doing here.”

Scottish Gold Medalists Finlay and Kennedy also offered praise and encouragement to competitors and said they thoroughly enjoyed the event. Both performed on the main stage at the Ligonier Highland Games Saturday, as well as at the Mòd banquet and cèilidh Saturday night.

Lyle Kennedy of Bonnybridge, Scotland.

Lyle Kennedy of Bonnybridge, Scotland.

Kerrie Finlay of DIngwall and Inverness.

Kerrie Finlay of DIngwall and Inverness.

Competitors said they were encouraged by MacLeod’s adjudication and the support from Finlay and Kennedy. “Donnie Murdo went beyond giving good advice, he showed us what we should do to improve our Gaelic and our singing,” said one competitor. “He sat down with me and went over a song, which was very helpful.”

The day ended with a dinner and cèilidh at the Ligonier Tavern, with songs from the Scottish guests and many Mòd participants and instrumental music provided by fiddler Bobbi Horvath, flute and whistle player Anne Alexander, Liam Cassidy on the mouth organ and Scott Morrison on bodhrán.

On Sunday, MacLeod led a workshop on Gaelic Psalm singing. He explored the origins of psalm singing and noted its special place in Presbyterian worship in Scotland. “It is an act of worship and not some sort of separate art form,” he stressed.

Full Mòd results, and the results of the Distance Learning Competition, will be posted on this Web site shortly.

Next year’s U.S. National Mòd will take place Sept. 10-12 in Ligonier. Paul McCallum of South Uist will return to adjudicate for the second time. The Royal National Mòd, meanwhile, takes place in Oban this year from Oct. 9-17.

Piseach mhath dhan a h-uile duine! Good luck to everyone!


  1. […] a blog post about the Mòd and I will keep that promise. I do recommend that you read the article here to get the gist of the technical aspects and other things that I won’t always explain […]

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