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 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.
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!