BEM for Glasgow Gaelic choirmaster Kenneth Thomson who adopted the language by accident
THE longtime conductor of a Gaelic choir has expressed his joy after being awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) on the Queen’s birthday.
Kenneth Thomson, from Kelvinside, spent almost 40 years of his life leading the Glasgow Gaelic Musical Association (GGMA) after starting the hobby by accident – and he hasn’t looked back since.
The former chief executive of Yorkhill’s NHS Trust was invited by the father of a friend of his girlfriend – and later his wife – Valerie at the age of 18 to cover his native Campbeltown choir for just six weeks , only for Mr. Thomson to fall in love with the tongue.
But the 71-year-old admitted the prize was tinged with sadness as he couldn’t share it with Valerie, who lost her life when she was hit by a truck in Kelvinbridge 11 years ago.
The father of two and the grandfather of four said: “I only felt sorry that my wife was killed in an accident a few years ago and she was not there to share it with me.
“But I know she would have been really proud.”
He added: “I feel very happy and it was such a nice surprise to receive the email.
“The choir has been a big part of my life. I joined him at the age of 18 and today I’m 71, after taking over conducting in 1983.
“It was actually a bit of luck that I got involved in the choir.
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“I was from Campbeltown and my then girlfriend, and later my wife, and I was visiting a friend of hers, whose father was the chairman of the local choir.
“He mentioned that they were short of singers and asked me to accompany him only for six weeks. I didn’t know Gaelic at the time but followed and six weeks turned out to be 50 odd years.
“My wife was native Gaelic, but I learned on a crash course at the University of Glasgow.”
In addition to spending 32 years in the healthcare service, Mr. Thomson has been widely recognized for his dedication to Gaelic chanting.
As a solo singer in the 1970s, he won the Silver Pendant at East Kilbride Mod, and then won the gold medal at Stornoway.
He then conducted the East Kilbride Gaelic Choir and recorded several albums.
In addition to conducting and singing, he was a prolific arranger of Gaelic songs for choral singing, initially for the GGMA and later for other choirs, quartets and duets.
Mr Thomson has also organized numerous events in the past to raise funds for health related projects and has previously been inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame.
“It’s been a big part of my life,” he said. “The past year and more has been frustrating, but we hope to start again soon.”