FATHER Sydney MacEwan
FATHER Sydney MacEwan
[b. Glasgow 1908 – d. Glasgow 1991]
In RA Format
I wish to thank Keith A Shilcock for the recording, and picture.
Review of a 2 CD set of Father MaEwan
Born in Glasgow, MacEwan grew up in a poor environment but with music, as the family frequently gathered to play and sing.
He began to learn the violin, but first appeared in public singing in a holiday camp competition – he won.
Through his early schooling with the Jesuits (when he sang regularly as boy soprano), he managed to enter Glasgow University where he met Compton Mackenzie, at that time Lord Rector but also creator and editor of the newly-formed “Gramophone” magazine. This friendship benefited MacEwan throughout his career, starting with an introduction to John McCormack (then living in Roehampton) who heard and liked his voice. (Interestingly the other houseguest was Fulton Sheen, later the Bishop of New York and Archbishop of Rochester). Mackenzie also paid the fees for vocal training with the great Harry Plunkett-Green (considered the finest teacher at that time) at the RAM; this grounded MacEwan’s technique and style, and around this time his 1st records were made (for “Parlophone” 1934-36). These are a particularly fascinating group of songs: firstly, as some have only been recorded by MacEwan (and just the once); secondly, as they show a remarkable interpretive understanding, plus a vocal confidence, astounding in a singer of only 25.
MacEwan made numerous trips to America and Australasia, where he was a highly respected artist with concerts sold-out wherever he travelled. He continued these tours after closing his professional career to become a priest in the Catholic Church (ordained 1944). He made records into his 60s, his last “Suffer little children” in Dublin 1972.
His autobiography (1973) “On the high Cs” – the title defines his humorous and selfless approach to life – is a delightful read, with many memories about other artists and acquaintances.
For what it is worth, I feel that MacEwan belongs in the rare group of singers that tells a story rather than sing a songs (like John McCormack, Salli Terri, …). His octave range was not wide and in later records a little unsteadiness crept in, but he used what he had with honesty and commitment – if not a Great Tenor, certainly a Great Artist.
I have a unique(?) experience of Father Sidney MacEwan. Whilst visiting Lochgilphead in 1990 my wife and I spoke to the domestic cleaner in the Catholic Church there, asking about MacEwan (as he had been priest there for many years). She told us he was retired and living in Dunoon; so we phoned and went to see him. We had tea and cake, and talked about all sorts of things; he appeared pleased that his career and records were remembered. We agreed to meet again the following year, but he died in Glasgow beforehand. We were both very upset as he seemed such a genuinely pleasant man. A regret for both of us, which will not be forgotten.
Partial Discography, English Parlophones, 1934-6
As I Sit Here.
Bonnie Mary of Argyle.
Maiden of Morven.
Maighdeanan Na H’Airidh.
Mnathan A’Chlinne So.
O Men From The Fields.
She Moved Through The Fair.
The Bonnie Earl O’ Moray.
The Lark In The Clear Air.
The Lewis Bridal Song.
The Peat Fire Flame.
The Road To The Isles.
Tog Orm Mo Phiob.
Turn Ye To Me.
Will Ye No Come Back Again.
Ye Banks And Braes.
[Piano accompaniment by: Duncan Morrison. Trio accompaniment: Alfredo Campoli (violin), Anthony Pini (cello), George Scott-Wood (piano).
Keith A Shilcock, April 2003.
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