Shona MacDonald: Acapella Psalms

Saturday 1st August 1998

An acapella album of Psalms hardly sounds like a sure-fire hit. But SHONA MacDONALD has proven the sceptics wrong. She spoke to Steve Cox.

Shona MacDonald
Shona MacDonald

It takes courage to release an album into the UK CCM market, but it takes astonishing bravery to issue an independent 14-track, acappella CD and expect success. That's exactly what 34-year-old Shona MacDonald has done and, after just a few minutes chatting with this wee lass from Edinburgh, it ail seemed to make perfect sense. How could I have doubted the wisdom of a young Scots lady brought up in the Free Presbyterian Church, where acappella forms an integral part of church-based worship? This cultural education is at the core of an album of meditative, worship songs for broken and hurting people.

I caught up with Shona in a small village near Inverness. Sadly our interview took place over the telephone, but a sense of remote Scottish beauty soon filtered down the line, providing a fitting backcloth to our conversation. "I studied drawing and painting and a lot of my work is inspired by the Highlands and the Islands," Shona began. "I wish I could go more often. Although I live in Edinburgh, my father was from an island just south of the island of Lewis."

This beautiful corner of God's creation plays an important role in Shona's musical and artistic work. Her CD 'Lost And Found' conveys a sense of isolated beauty, where nothing can destroy that perfect communion with our Creator God. "Acappella is very indigenous to my roots," continued Shona. "The church denomination I was originally from would sing acappella and they'd only sing the Psalms. That's what I was brought up in until I left school. It's only recently when I went to a Baptist church that I experienced any musical accompaniment.

"There was a big split in the Free Presbyterian Church. I wasn't a Christian at the time, although I was going to church twice on Sundays. So, I just came away with a group of people led by the minister at the time. It was only after I started thinking for myself I broke away and went to a totally different church."

Shona was 28 years of age when she discovered Jesus as her personal Saviour; a revelation that freed her from years of legalism and religiosity and taken her on a journey of character refining that seems to follow a deep encounter with Jesus. "Even for a good spell after I became a Christian," said Shona, "I still had a lot of do's and don'ts in my life, and it's only in the past few years I've done some serious growing in the Lord. I think it's partly because of the work I'm doing and partly because I've been so isolated that I've had to rely on God more.'

This sense of isolation is due, in part, to the lonely furrow ploughed by so many Christian artists struggling to obey God's call. It's also the consequence of the breakdown of a close relationship some 10 years ago. "I was really broken at that point. I just wanted to be with him, but it was amazing how God just plucked me out of that situation. It would not have been a good thing to continue. Even creatively, I was running dry a little bit. I certainly wasn't singing at the time."

"But, the real turning point was at a wedding when a relative said to me that they were really sorry to hear the two of us had split up, 'but if it leads you to a true relationship with Christ...' Now, I hardly knew him, and I could have socked him for being so insensitive, but he was absolutely bang on. It took me a year and a half, and a trip to the Island of Harris, when, standing on a beach, I thought, 'I want to live'. That's when I first started writing poetry, when I started putting all those mangled thoughts down."

In the midst of the pain of a broken relationship, God was showing his divine love which overflowed into a profusion of creativity previously stifled by religion and legalism. "It is my music, even more than painting, that brings me close to God," Shona began. "Even more than when I pray, even when I read the Bible. All I can say is all the garbage in my head, all my weaknesses go out the window when I'm singing."

Nearly two years ago, Shona developed glandular fever, which followed a very stressful period of self-employment trying to sell her artwork, designing a 16-page full colour magazine for a church and the constant pressure of earning an income. "This time last year, I was flat on my back and I lost my voice totally, and didn't think I would sing again. It was interesting because I always thank God for my voice and the privilege of being able to sing, but it re-iterated to me that I'm just a vessel. It's up to him whether I sing or not. Although there's immense joy about what I'm doing, it's really hard and that's what this CD is all about, joy in suffering." The heartbeat of God resonates powerfully through the words of scripture and Shona's beautiful voice. But, an album of unaccompanied songs takes some getting used to, so is there a viable market for acappella? "Well humanly speaking, I don't know if there was that big a market, but every time someone would suggest adding music or even sing non-Biblical songs, I did sense God saying don't limit my power. I think if a record company can recognise that there is something really different on there, because something that's different is new. I think there's room for what I'm doing."

My earlier scepticism lessened by the end of our conversation, particularly when Shona mentioned that the Virgin store in Edinburgh had been stocking the CD. Even Carl McDonald of Runrig chipped in with some comforting words, after Shona sent him a copy of her first cassette, 'The Silver Chord'. "Someone said I should send the album to Cliff Richard, but my brother said a band like Runrig shared the same Celtic routes. I thought they would just tell me where to go, but I received a telephone call from Carl which was really encouraging."

What is not in doubt is that the Lord has anointed this young lady with a voice like an angel, to bring God's healing into many hurting lives.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Steve Cox
Steve Cox lives in Cornwall, is married to a wonderful wife, Annette, is father of two daughters and a member of the Cross Rhythms family.


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