Monday, August 03, 2009

Mary Ann Kennedy

From the moment she was born Mary Ann Kennedy was destined for a life in music.


"Music is my earliest memory," she says. "I remember lying in bed at the family home in Glasgow listening to my mum, her sister and brother all singing together in the front room.


"For me, singing has always been part of my life."


Born and brought up in a Gaelic-speaking household in Glasgow, Mary Ann is the daughter of island parents – her father was from Tiree and her mother, renowned Gaelic singer Kenna Campbell, hails from Skye.


The ease with which she communicates on stage and on air stem from years of experience, from performing the traditional music of her upbringing, to the rigorous training of a classical musician, to the several years that she grafted in a BBC newsroom.


She studied piano at the Royal Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow and continued postgraduate studies at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester where she majored on concert harp, while researching Gaelic mouth music – a unique combination.


She moved to the Highlands capital, Inverness, in 1993, where several years followed living the double life of a musician and news presenter.


Ultimately, she was responsible for the BBC's entire Gaelic radio news output, but sleep deprivation and her true passions eventually took over and she returned to the life of a freelance musician and broadcaster.


She has never looked back. Mary Ann is one of a handful of singers to win both Gold Medals at the Royal National Mod – Gaeldom's premier cultural festival - and has also twice won the International Celtic Harp competition in Lorient, Brittany.


She also received a Saltire Award for Lasair Dhé, a musical collaboration between her award-winning band, Cliar, and Gaelic choral music, originally commissioned as the finale of the 1999 Highland Festival, and which went on to wider success.


Her work today covers radio, television, live performance and studio production, the latter often as a team with husband, Nick Turner, at their broadcast and recording studios, Watercolour Music, based in Ardgour in the West Highlands.


Their most recent success was the 2005 Scots Trad Music Media Award for the BBC Scotland TV series on Gaelic song, Aig Cridhe ar Ciùil (At the Heart of our Music is Song), for which they produced the soundtrack.


Mary Ann sees her broadcasting career as something of a catalyst for other music and musicians to reach new audiences.


This includes presenting the Sony-nominated BBC Radio Scotland show Celtic Connections, where much of the show's success stems from her passion as a musician.


"I'm discovering new stuff that's really exciting all the time, and I'm able to be passionate about what I'm playing," she says.


"On Celtic Connections we play everything - from the most hardcore of Scottish seann-nòs song to Puerto Rican reggaeton to brassy Balkan club grooves.


"The enthusiasm I have is that of a musician responding to other musicians' work." Mary Ann broadcasts her radio programmes from the Watercolour Music studios in Ardgour, thanks to the miracles of digital technology. "It feels like the edge of the world and the centre of the universe," she says.

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