Discover more from Elizabeth Hummel
New recording and video of a beautiful song, and a story about Ruth
Scotland has been on my mind a great deal recently. I’m thrilled to share this new song and video I made of the classic Scottish song “Loch Lomond.” We loved how it turned out, and hope you take a listen/watch and enjoy my little film! I don’t often record songs I haven’t written. Below is the back story of how this came to be. More stories like this about my music work with elders soon to come in another Substack publication called “Some Glad Morning.” Please leave a comment and share if it speaks to you. Thanks for engaging!
A few months ago, Ruth’s son Larry asked me if I knew the Scottish folk song “Loch Lomond.” Ruth is one of the fragile elders I work with playing music, and Larry was visiting his mother from North Carolina, joining us in one of our sessions. Although she has advanced dementia, Ruth recognizes me and lights up when she sees my face. “Oh yes!” she often says, her face beaming as she reaches to grasp my hand. “How marvelous to see you again!”
Elizabeth Hummel is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
As with my other elders, the music I play on my guitar and sing has a profound effect on Ruth. She remembers me so well because of the many times we have been together: music is a powerful anchor, even more so when coupled with loving attention. Patterns of music and words locked deep in the folds of her neural networks open like flowers in the sunlight of song, providing a rare way for her to access joy. The eye contact and live music help Ruth be present with people who love her—and who grieve the loss of those precious moments of awareness stolen by dementia. It is beautiful to see Ruth’s eyes sparkle with recognition, the mist of confusion dispelled, at least for a bit. As Larry thought she might remember and enjoy it, I wanted to learn “Loch Lomond” for her.
I didn’t think I knew it but found multiple versions on YouTube. Many of them feature bagpipes and a jaunty beat, though the Chanticleer version Larry had recommended was exquisite and somber. Once I heard the chorus, I realized I was familiar with it:
Ye’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low
And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye
Like many “afore” me, I fell deeply in love with “Loch Lomond.”
Ruth’s other son George lives near his mother and is usually part of the fun of our weekly music sessions, sometimes goofily pantomiming the songs for Ruth and singing along too. (“Yee-ha!” we yell together to Ruth’s delight when we sing “Comin’ Round the Mountain.”) When I sang “Loch Lomond” for Ruth and George the first time, her eyes widened with the shock of recognition. She immediately sang on the chorus, joining me and George “on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.” For a few minutes, we were in Scotland together in the sunshine by that beautiful lake. Her face was so happy, even blissful. I will never know the specific memories Ruth associates with this moving song, but I felt like I hit the “music and memory” motherload! I have been singing it to all my elders ever since. They all know it. Many times, they cry when they hear “Loch Lomond.” Sometimes I cry too.
I’m American but have been a life-long fan of the entire British Isles and the people who live there. I was an English Lit (not American Lit) major in college. My own ancestry includes Irish and perhaps Scottish and English people. Great artists from the British Isles have moved and inspired me, from Shakespeare to Jane Austin to CS Lewis to JK Rowling, and so many others. Not to mention “anonymous” composers of Celtic-based folk music I heard growing up, much of which was preserved from the British Isles in the Appalachian Mountains of the US where my parents were born. The fiddle tunes my father learned as a kid often had their origins across the pond. That ancient music is in my bones.
Although there are many gorgeous recordings already out there, I wanted to record my own version of “Loch Lomond,” expressing my love for the song, but also for the Scottish landscape and people. For me, the song needed to be slow and soulful rather than peppy and militaristic. I found so many awesome film clips and photos of Scotland and this world-famous lake, so the video was fun to make.
There are many versions of the lyrics, and the history of the song is fascinating. But you needn't know anything about its origin, and you needn't have Scottish heritage to feel the beauty of “Loch Lomond”: its power moves beyond cultural boundaries. Like many of the greatest songs, the composer of the music is unknown. Both the music and the version of the lyrics I chose express deep sorrow and love, the primal beauty of nature, and the mysteries of life and death.
The last time I saw Ruth, she reached up from her wheelchair to gently trace the side of my face as I was saying goodbye. “I am so grateful for what you have done for me,” she said slowly and clearly, her eyes shining. My eyes filled with tears. Ruth knew exactly what had just happened between us. We had found a doorway together to a secret garden, escaping not only dementia, but all our sorrows and struggles. We all suffer, but there is also the joy we can touch together. Music is one of the keys.
Ruth, I hope you know how grateful I am for you too. I’ll see you next time in our sunlit garden of music.
I am also grateful to Jon Green (bass), Peter Pendras (guitar), Brian Castillo (engineering, mastering, production), and Jordan Hughes (production) for helping me to make this magical recording.
PS: happy full moon to my fellow moon lovers! There’s a great shot of the full moon in the video.