The gorgeous melody of this beloved traditional Scottish song is the “star” of this arrangement, garbed in the sonorous harmonies of men’s a cappella voices. With text by Robert Burns, in his second version, published in 1794.
“Ca’” is to call, “yowes” are ewes, and “knowes” are knolls; Burns thus describes the beautiful pastoral scene in which to walk with his beloved “bonnie dearie.”
Ca’ the yowes to the knowes,
Ca’ them where the heather growes,
Ca’ them where the burnie rowes,
My bonnie dearie. (“burnie” = brook, “rowes” = rolls)
With verse after lovely verse, the last is the loveliest:
Fair and lovely as thou art, thou hast stolen my very heart;
I can die, but cannot part, my bonnie dearie.
This is surely one of the most beautiful folk melodies in the world. But if I had been raised in Scotland, I would have grown up hearing it cloaked in modal harmonies. As it was, I only learned it from my friend Deborah Morris in my 20’s, and the harmonization in this arrangement is simply the way my fingers “heard” it the first time I sat down to play it on the piano.
I wrote this “Ca’ the Yowes” setting as a companion piece to a commission for the Young Men’s Ensemble of the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus. I had been wanting to set it for some time, but wasn’t at all expecting the stars to align as they did with the commissioning family, who were of Scottish descent, and were already hoping for a Burns text for my “official” piece, “A Mother’s Lament”. The wonderful singers of YME, conducted by Steven Kronauer, presented the premiere in Pasadena in May 2013, with Avery Roberts on the solo.