Striding Arches

Posted on 5.24.2017 by Megan Henderson


In the fall of 2014, I had the privilege of touring as a singer with Northern Harmony, a 16-voice ensemble made up of Village Harmony alumni and leaders. We spent 10 weeks together all told. The group was comprised of singers from across the U.S. and Canada. In late August, we met to rehearse in Marshfield, Vt. We lived together, prepared and ate meals communally, began each day with Balkan dancing ( to a live band of course!) and rehearsed music from Bulgaria, the Republic of Georgia, Corsica and South Africa. Also included in the program were traditional and contemporary shape note songs and a mass from the German Renaissance era. The occasional trip to some unforgettable swimming holes kept us refreshed through 8-10 hours of daily/nightly rehearsals.

After 8 days, we packed up and started our rigorous tour. We began in the northeast United States then jumped the pond to spend almost a month in the UK, singing in beautiful old churches, Waldorf Schools, concert halls, kitchens, vans and community centers. We eventually went on to Switzerland, France and Germany for a few weeks. We gave concerts, led workshops, shared contra, Balkan and English Country Dances with the locals and many potluck suppers!

Moniaive_250.jpgWe got to know many folks as they generously gave us a bed for a night or two as we passed through their city or tiny picturesque village. One of these villages is called Moniaive and it is located in south-west Scotland.The villagers of Moniaive were some of the most enthusiastic and skilled singers and dancers we’d come across so far in our tour. They also prepared an incredible potluck dinner for us the night of our concert!  

On a rare free morning after our concert, our hosts offered to take us to a site  called the Striding Arches, an amazing installation by the artist Andy Goldsworthy. Goldsworthy is well known for his work that integrates the natural world in magical ways. callout_striding_arch_212x137.jpgThe Striding Arches is a trio of arches crowning three sites in this south-west district of Scotland. As you stand at one of the sites, you can see the other two arches on a clear day. Some websites say the arches represent the Scots who emigrated to these areas. Our hosts, however, told us the arches were erected to honor those who were displaced from their homeland and forced to leave for unknown lands.


One of the women of our group, Kimaya Diggs,  started thinking about the difference between the timeless, ubiquitous plights of the involuntary traveler and privileges the voluntary traveler (the 16 singers on the Northern Harmony tour, for instance). Kimaya wrote a moving 3 stanza poem called Striding Arches and I was inspired to set the text in shape note style.  As is common with many shape note songs, the place of inspiration often appears as the title.

This song is naturally called Moniaive.  The song found its way back to the villagers of Moniaive and they have been singing it for a few years now.

A few months ago, I was told that the song would be part of a Song Cycle written by contemporary women composers and that the cycle would be performed in late May in Scotland. What an honor it is to be part of such an event! Kudos to the organizers, composers and performers who have put this wonderful project together and thank you so much for including me! Here’s to being good stewards of the earth and to treating each other with care and respect.