Isle of Skye: An Old Tune Reimagined

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Skye Isle is located in the Inner Hebrides archipelago on Scotland’s west coast where it is both the largest and northernmost island. Known for its picturesque landscapes, castles, and wildlife, it is frequently visited by tourists from all over the world. This piece is a setting of the Skye Boat Song, a beautiful Scottish folk tune in triple meter. The lyrics recount events after the British Army defeated the Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden when Prince Charles Edward Stuart is said to have retreated by boat to the Isle of Skye.

The Storr on the Trotternish peninsula in Skye

Speed bonnie boat like a bird on the wing
Onward the sailors cry.
Carry the lad that’s born to be king
Over the sea to Skye

Loud the wind howls
Loud the waves roar

Thunderclaps rend the air
Baffled our foes
Stand by the shore
Follow they will not dare

Speed bonnie boat like a bird on the wing
Onward the sailors cry.
Carry the lad that’s born to be king
Over the sea to Skye

Many’s the lad fought on that day
Well the claymore did wield
When the night came
Silently lain
Dead on Colloden field

Speed bonnie boat like a bird on the wing
Onward the sailors cry.
Carry the lad that’s born to be king
Over the sea to Skye

Skye Boat Song

I discovered this tune when my wife introduced me to “Outlander,” a series on Starz. The show follows protagonist, Clare as she slips through time into 18th century Scotland during the time of the Jacobite uprising and falls in love with James Fraser. Disclaimer: parental discretion advised for the series.


Mostly pentatonic, the melody is in rounded binary form (A-B-A) where the A theme rises and falls to and from the dominant scale degree while tonicizing an Ionian mode, and the B theme leads downward over the relative Aeolian mode.

Skye Boat Song scored for bagpipes

My arrangement begins with an eight-measure introduction consisting of cascading intervals pitched in the E-flat major pentatonic scale. Supported by metallic mallet instruments, the opening line moves from the high woodwinds down through the mid voices and into the lows before arriving on a half cadence with the third omitted. This is followed by a six measure slow march feel in triple time utilizing some chromatic neighbor chords sounding the tonic.

The first utterance of the A theme is heard in the trumpets and is supported by the low winds and percussion. Extended harmonies are used to portray a tone of power and poise like that of the Jacobite Army. The B theme is then played by high winds and mallet percussion before a phrase extension and ritardando swell into a full ensemble restatement of the A theme. Here, the trumpets again play the melody with various counterpoint based on both the A and B themes passed throughout the rest of the ensemble. This climaxes after a stately ritard on a deceptive cadence in G-flat major before a solo trumpet settles back into a recapitulation of the opening materials in E-flat major. The final cadence, from B-flat dominant seven to E-flat major is the only perfect authentic cadence in the entire piece and gives the final measures a sense of completion and restfulness.

To purchase this piece, please visit Excelcia Music Publishing. To learn more about the composer, please visit Michael J. Miller, L.L.C.

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Michael is a composer, conductor, and educator with a strong background in the pageantry arts. His music is modern, exciting, and full of dramatic effect and has quickly received recognition and performances around the world.