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The New Outlander Season 5 Intro

Starz decided to give the Outlander fandom a little Christmas present when they dropped the new Outlander Season 5 Intro! And they’re a big change! Gone are any instruments, replaced with a brand new choral arrangement of “The Skye Boat Song”.

*Please note: I’m a choral singer, and music teacher. But I’m not a music historian. So the following are general thoughts and some facts, but I’m not publishing my book on choral music in the 18th century next week!

Outlander Family

Outlander Introduction Feels

Each season of Outlander, composer Bear McCreary updates the song giving it the flair of the season. This might include lyrics in another language (season 2 France), varying instrumentation (Scottish war drums & pipes for the second half of season 2, different percussion at the back half of season 3 evoking the Caribbean setting), and even an entirely new arrangement for season 4.

So now we come to season 5 and we get this choral piece. I’m going to start by saying I’m a total choral nerd. I adore choral music. I listen to it for fun. I sing it weekly. I’ve conducted and sung pieces by William Billings, arguably the most well-known composer of American choral music of the 18th century. So let’s talk about what I liked first. It’s a choral piece! And the first few lines are quite pretty. Bring on some great singers singing pretty things!

But let’s talk about the use of this choral arrangement thematically. I’ve been struggling with this because I enjoy the use of choral singers. The trouble is lot of choral music in America in the 18th century centered around hymns. Folk songs were sung, but less so in a choral setting. Though shape note singing existed, it didn’t become popular until the mid-19th century. Shakers didn’t really impact the world of choral singing until the 1820’s. This is to say, choral singing in this way certainly existed. But it wasn’t hugely popular, a lot of it wasn’t very good, and it was taking place with the most regularity in New England. The Fiery Cross, like Drums of Autumn, is set mainly in North Carolina during the War of the Regulation. Don’t believe me? Listen to Dr. James McCray.

Jamie Lord John

I understand wanting to do something different for season 5 but does this strike the right tone? I’m not sure I would have used choral singers the whole way through, but if you’re hiring them, you might as well do the entire thing chorally. But there’s something off about several things in it. The soprano voices singing the melody an octave higher on the repeat of the refrain makes the whole thing feel spacious and clunky. Given what we discussed regarding choral music in 18th century America and its overall artfulness, perhaps that’s entirely appropriate even if it’s less pleasant to listen to. There’s also something that distinctly puts the listener distinctly off balance about the rhythm of the tune at the end of the line “lass be I”. Why that shift in the feeling of the meter? Was it intentional? I’d love to know.

I’m not even going to go into the images. If you’ve read The Fiery Cross you know we’re in for a wild ride and a really long Gathering. So Outlander fans? What do you think? Is anyone else out there as jazzed about choral music as I am? Does the new choral intro make you more hyped for season 5 or does it put you to sleep? You won’t offend this choral nerd. Where do you stand? My opinion? Decidedly mixed!

Roger Bree Jemmy
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Andee Galeno
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  • Jeanne
    January 2, 2020 at 9:24 pm

    I love choral music as well so was surprised to find myself not liking the new version of the theme song. I appreciate your more knowledgeable analysis as an explanation. The funny thing is, I’ve heard other choral arrangements of the Skye Boat Song which I enjoyed. I think Bear just overthought this one. Simpler would have been better. I was also confused by the images used. I do not find them very compelling.

    • Andee Galeno
      January 13, 2020 at 9:51 pm

      Yeah, as a choral nerd it was SUPER weird for me. The first time I listened, I LOVED it. But the more that I listened, the less I enjoyed it. I think the first part was really on point for me and then it just felt… off. And those strange rhythms REALLY killed me. I too have liked other arrangements of the Skye Boat song! I wonder if they’ll keep this theme for the whole reason?

  • Tess G
    January 3, 2020 at 1:51 am

    I don’t have a music background or expertise in choral forms, but I know what moves me. This did not. This opening as a whole inspired… nothing. There was no cohesion between the music and the images they ran, and nothing that made me say “Ooh, when does this new season start?” – I’d give it less than a meh. It was boring, in fact, but more than that – it was a turn-off to what it’s supposed to be promoting.

    • Andee Galeno
      January 13, 2020 at 9:53 pm

      Oooo, boring is definitely the kiss of death! Even as a choral nerd, this didn’t hit the right notes for me. I hope it changes as the season progresses. Usually the images change quite a bit, right?

  • Blanca meyer
    January 12, 2020 at 10:43 am

    It’s horrible to listen to.they have killed the magic that was there whenever the song was played. The original version personified Claire and brought a haunting melancholy to what is Claire na dun.they have ruined such a beautiful song!!!😭

    • Andee Galeno
      January 13, 2020 at 9:55 pm

      It’s definitely a weird switch. And the fact that they chose to make it acapella with no accompaniment?? I thought at least the instruments would kick in halfway through!!! It’s a shame.

  • John B.
    February 24, 2020 at 4:11 am

    When I first heard this theme for S1, it captivated me. And every iteration since, with an instrumentation re-focused to the season, was beautiful in its boldness of choices. So, when I first heard the theme for S5, I was absolutely stunned; it is a moving, haunting, mesmerizing rendition that I can’t get out of my head. And NO INSTRUMENTS! (Well, until the closing chord.) Personally, the bold choice to go choral for the new season’s theme works pays off completely.

    • Andee Galeno
      February 24, 2020 at 11:48 pm

      I am a choral music FREAK, I listen to it almost exclusively, and I sing it regularly! I was so psyched for a choral arrangement, but this one just fell flat for me. I’m glad you love it!!

    • Jim
      March 8, 2021 at 4:24 pm

      Agreed. I’m a musicophile and thought it very daring to use acapella singing in made for TV theme. They are tight and the arrangement is fine if perhaps not true to 18th C . Who does that ? It is a first for millions living in a Rap world.

  • February 24, 2020 at 1:15 pm

    The arrangement and performance of this version is very polished and professional which may be its biggest problem. The solo version in season one seemed to grow out of the Scottish soil and is profoundly moving.

    A second problem with choral version is its style is quite modern and showy.

    • Andee Galeno
      February 24, 2020 at 11:50 pm

      It does have a modern, “polished” feel, doesn’t it? Even the timing isn’t QUITE right for colonial America, and I am still reeling over that weird out-of-time feeling rhythm. It’s killing me!

    • Thersa
      April 26, 2020 at 1:14 am

      The lovable fact is that you could hide and hear the song performed without knowing you were being herd, It had a realistict fact to the same as in that of the book. I’ve traveled to historical sites and listening to an entire choir just defeats the purpose other than being a tourist it spot. Been there, done that!

      • Theresa
        April 26, 2020 at 1:20 am

        Sorry new phone with tinnier buttons, meant to say “heard“ not herd and “touristic”.

  • Stephanie
    March 18, 2020 at 9:45 pm

    Does anyone know who the choir is…or did they just hire a bunch of singers?

    • Andee Galeno
      March 18, 2020 at 10:22 pm

      They’re session singers! They’re choral musicians at the VERY TOP of their game, seriously, these are some killer musicians. They sound like a choir who has been rehearsing together for years and they’d probably met an hour before.

  • Scott Gielda
    March 22, 2020 at 9:43 am

    Andee, as learned as you seem about Choral Music. Who gives a F***. It’s a theme song to a TV show. It’s still Scottish in theme, as is the entire show. It’s a beautiful piece of work, I was excited as hell when I heard the first 2 bars that it wasn’t the same ol’ song. Bear McCreary changes the theme every year, and this is a totally new and exciting choice. For you to delve DEEPLY into what is happening during the song is plain and simply stupid. Take the song at face value and enjoy it. If you think you can do better, gather a group of singers, rework the arrangement, and post it on YouTube as a challenge to Bear. Do you write other reviews of TV show themes? Did you have problems the the themes to Cheers, S.W.A.T, Golden Girls, Big Bang Theory, Game of Thrones, etc..,

  • Jeannie
    March 27, 2020 at 11:18 am

    I am also a choral music geek, singer, music teacher and conductor and I have to say – I ADORE this piece and listen to it over and over. It has never even occurred to me that is might not be historically accurate. Guys, We are talking about a story that involves time travel!!! I love the simplicity of this arrangement, the slight metre change that sounds almost like a triplet? And the purity of those voices – I’d kill to have them in my choir! Love, love, LOVE!!!

    • Andee Galeno
      March 30, 2020 at 11:50 am

      I’m not particularly looking for historical accuracy, but I AM looking for a good choral arrangement, and having the soprano 1’s double up the octave just isn’t great. You are dead right about those voices!!! LA session singers are the ABSOLUTE BEST. Seriously at the top of their game. It’s my dream to head out to LA and be one of them myself!!!

  • April 2, 2020 at 2:00 pm

    I absolutely ADORE this version (like all the others) and am delighted they took such a risk.

    I’ve been recording choral, orchestral and operatic music my entire career (over 35 years now) and this made all the hairs on my arms stand up. (Still does, every time I hear it.) It’s fresh, it’s interesting, it’s clean and it’s enjoyable. Please DON’T over-analyze what soprano’s went where, and who’s doubling what part. Utter nonsense and a waste of time. (I’m classically trained and sang in chorus groups all through college, and I say: SO WHAT??) To me, it’s other-worldly, set in a different time, not necessarily going by our harmonic rules or arrangement.

    I think it’s a natural progression from the “Bluegrass” version of Season 4, and regardless of the timeline in terms of Choral music – Sacred Harp & shape singing, etc. – which as you say is not quite there yet in America. They’re certainly allowed a little leeway; they were certainly singing at that level of complexity in Europe and Classical music of the era. (Heck, Claire is making penicillin nearly 200 years before it was actually discovered, right?)

    Just gorgeous stuff all around. Thanks for your thoughtful post, regardless; I just think you should lighten up a little and give Bear some slack. 😉

    • Andee Galeno
      April 19, 2020 at 10:38 am

      I’ve really loved the other ones, I just couldn’t get past this one! There are a lot of hands involved in a show like this. Who knows who was standing there asking for this and that, and what they knew about music. I’m ALWAYS happy to have choral music in the spotlight! But it just wasn’t my fave!! LOL. We all have stuff we like to listen to, how can I not hear the sopranos doubling up the octave when I just think it’s poor writing! We can throw our credentials at each other all we want, but at the end of the day my favorite choral composer can be different from yours. 😉😉 Thanks for your reply!

  • ElenaLongsworth
    April 13, 2020 at 3:05 am

    I adore the choral version, lovely! Well sung!

  • Patty
    April 21, 2020 at 1:34 am

    I liked the original song and hate this chorus version. I think it sounds awful.

  • Karen Lewis
    May 9, 2020 at 6:38 pm

    I was blown away by Season 5 choral arrangement first time I heard it. I am a musician, piano and violin/double bass. The shape singing totally intentional. It may not fit historically but it speaks to America and jazz, licenseture with rhythm. The buffalo come in so perfectly. It departs from the original song without apology and creates a new experience and relationship with the melody. It is exalting.

  • Judith Flett
    July 24, 2020 at 11:29 am

    I quite like it! I am also quite a choral nerd!

    Can someone explain the rhythm/metre/time change to me? Has anyone figured it out?

  • Kevin McGoff
    September 20, 2020 at 6:02 pm

    The article is right on target. As a choral singer and conductor, I was giddy with excitement that the choral art is so prominently displayed in the Season 5 intro. And I think that the choir, whoever they are, beautifully sing in a style that I love – clear, clean, precise, and uncluttered. However, my admiration stops there because I know that this style of singing is a very recent thing. Unlike the Season 2 musical adaptation to include the lyrics sung in French and the viol da gamba, a prominent instrument in music of the Baroque, the Season 5 choral version doesn’t really speak to the sounds and times of Jamie and Clair in the colonies, especially in the back country of North Carolina. Which brings me round to Season 4’s intro music. The bluegrass style is a good idea but the recording is just to “Pretty” for bluegrass. It struck me as a group of right proper Cambridge choral scholars trying out bluegrass for the first time. There are scores of excellent bluegrass musicians and groups – why not hire them to add an authenticity that is sadly lacking?

  • Deborah Jedynak
    December 6, 2020 at 6:33 pm

    Love the choral version

    • January 6, 2021 at 3:37 pm

      I love this choral arrangement. It;s the nicest chance of the Skye Boat Song ever.

      But I love to have this arrangement on sheet music !! I want to sing this with my choir. Until now, I didn’t succeed in finding sheet music with THIS arrangement. Maybe someone can find it or write it down.

      I would be so thankful !

      Jos from Holland

      • Léa
        January 20, 2022 at 3:34 am

        Hi Jos,

        did you get any answers, regarding the choral piece?
        I love this version, and would love to sing it with my choir!

        That would be great!

        Léa from Switzerland

  • Jim
    March 8, 2021 at 4:33 pm

    Greatly disappointed that in our desire for media authority, and search for reliable sources that the undoubtedly huge egos of the program’s producers, failed to credit the choral singers. I noticed the info is buried so deep it doesn’t show up on any reasonable internet search. Sours me on the series in no small way. Are these human voices, who or synth ?

  • Lori Lehnhof
    April 17, 2021 at 10:22 pm

    My husband and I both fell in love with the choral arrangement. I loved how the arrangement had the soprano’s one octave higher….and the men ? Why they did an excellent job. High marks all around and I do not care if this type of choral arrangement was not popular during this period piece.

  • G Wray
    March 17, 2022 at 12:33 pm

    I don’t care for the particular choral arrangement used for Season 5 of Outlander. There’s just too much of a whiff of Whiffenpoof about it.

  • Michel Price
    May 23, 2022 at 12:25 pm

    I love the choral arrangement! I am a choral nerd with a Master’s in Church Music. I’d love to see the score, so I can figure out the meter change, which provides so much interest. I’m obsessed with figuring it out, so anyone with more insight, speak up! Beautiful singing, no matter what!

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