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Singing Solo Suits Scot Folk Artist

February 20, 1987|MARC SHULGOLD

Jean Redpath is not fond of all the fussy details that go into preparing for a concert--things like deciding what to sing. "Just dump me in a hall and I'll have no trouble," says the veteran Scottish folksinger.

Fortunately, there'll be no need for last-minute rehearsals with an accompanist when she appears at concerts by the Los Angeles Master Chorale in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion tonight and Saturday afternoon.

Redpath will be singing alone.

"I always get very nervous with an accompanist," she admits during a telephone conversation from Madison, Wis. "Anyway, all of Scottish singing was originally unaccompanied. It wasn't until the '50s that the skiffle bands introduced the guitar to our music."

The Master Chorale events are titled "Music of the Highlands," yet Redpath seems an unusual choice as soloist: With fellow Scot John Currie conducting, the bulk of the program will be folk song settings for full chorus and orchestra. Is there a chance, then, that Redpath's more traditional, intimate approach might look out of place amid such large-scale music making?

"I'm not going to worry about what's 'traditional' and what's not," she says. "For heaven's sakes, what am I doing in an evening dress in a fancy hall singing traditional folk songs? I can't pretend I'm offering the real thing. There's a longstanding tradition of choral singing in Scotland, you know.

"Let's just say that in my two short sets, I'll be offering three or four of some 20 traditions of Scottish singing." In addition to her Master Chorale appearances, she'll offer a solo concert Saturday night at the Ebell Club.

True to the folk spirit, Redpath, 49, developed her enormous repertory by listening directly to singers singing songs: "I never did learn to read music, so I had to work by ear only. My feeling is, when something goes in by ear, it never comes out again."

Now, she claims, "I could sing a week without repeating myself."

Her early days in Fife, where she still lives part of the year, were spent absorbing tunes from her large family. "There were 13 of us, so I had no problem finding material," she says. Even though she belonged to several folklore societies in her college days, Redpath insists she's no scholar.

"First of all, I don't have time to collect tunes. And, really, I don't care who wrote a song or when--a good song is a good song. Besides, back in the old days of the 1600s, everyone was cheerfully plagiarizing from each other anyway."

Similarly, she's in no mood to translate her songs to the printed page. "I would like to make all my material available, but not in formal notation. I realize some people can't cope with something that's not in print. I've made records that are available to the ear."

Among Redpath's numerous recordings, mostly on Folkways, are a series of critically acclaimed albums of the songs of Robert Burns, as arranged by Serge Hovey, who lives in Pacific Palisades. None of those are likely inclusions at her local appearances, she says, since "I learned them with the recording studio in mind. It would be tough to remember them now."

Redpath says she'll most likely offer a few tearful ballads at her Music Center appearances. "It all depends on the mood of the audience. I'd like to be able to touch them with a little Celtic melancholia.

"Over the years I've learned that it's easy to get people to laugh. The real challenge is to get them to cry a little."

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