- Marie McKinsey
Bear McCreary: The Man Behind the Outlander Music
Updated: Oct 8, 2022
I can't imagine a composer more suited to creating the score for the Outlander TV series than Bear McCreary.
Growing up, he attended the Scottish Highland Games held every summer in his home town of Bellingham, Washington. He was particularly captivated by the music.
He describes the experience on his blog:
"First hearing the rolling and relentless Bb drone of the bagpipe bands get louder as we parked the car and headed towards the grounds gave me the euphoria that most little kids probably feel going to Disneyland."
Before he even graduated from high school, he was researching songs from the time of the 1745 Jacobite Rising in Scotland, about which he says,
"I was awestruck by the ability of these songs to communicate hidden meaning, tales of tragedy and triumph, with deceptively simple melodic lines and evocative harmonic progressions."
Years later, when producer Ron Moore needed a composer to do the score for the Outlander TV series, McCreary was the perfect fit.
His decision to adapt the Scottish folk tune, The Skye Boat Song, to make it the theme song for the series is brilliant. Originally written to tell the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie's escape to the Isle of Skye after his defeat at Culloden, the song connects with the historical events familiar to readers of Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER books.
For the theme song, Bear has taken this well known melody, slowed the tempo, and changed the lyrics to make it a song about Claire Randall, "the lass that is gone." It is haunting and beautiful and unmistakably Scottish. So that you can hear and compare the two versions of the song, scroll down and have a listen.
This is the original Skye Boat Song, complete with lyrics, performed by The Corries.
The original lyrics were rewritten by Robert Louis Stevenson, the Scottish noveliest, poet, and travel writer, and adapted further by Bear McCreary to fit the Outlander story. Watch the opening credits for Outlander, to hear his version of the lyrics. (And look for the little blue flowers at the base of the stones in the closing frames.)
Chorus: Sing me a song of a lass that is gone, Say, could that lass be I? Merry of soul she sailed on a day Over the sea to Skye.
Billow and breeze, islands and seas, Mountains of rain and sun, All that was good, all that was fair, All that was me is gone. Repeat chorus
Give me again all that was there, Give me the sun that shone, Give me the eyes, give me the soul Give me the lass that's gone.
Here's the full length song, featuring vocalist Raya Yarbrough, Bear's wife.