Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Earn a wage

Earn a wage is the fifth and last scene of We Can Dance, We Can Swing. In the fourth scene a narrator reflected on the legacy of Mary Brooksbank. In the fifth scene the millgirls reflect on the legacy of the jute industry for their own lives.

We earn a wage,
Feed girls and boys,
Pay the rent, 
Raise our voice,
We are girls,
Girls of the mills.

We can dance,
We can swing,
Stay out late,
Loudly sing,
We are girls,
Girls of the mills.

Copyright text, words and music Petra Vergunst

Among them

Among them is the fourth scene of We Can Dance, We Can Swing. Thus far millgirls have had a night out in town, celebrating their independence and gossiping merrily. From the crowds one millgirl stepped forward to remind the others of the other side of their lives, the difficulties in feeding their families and unhealthy conditions in the mills. In the third scene this millgirl, supported by a crowd of millgirls, spoke up to the mill manager, asking him for higher wages. Scene four provides an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of Mary Brooksbank, one of the millgirls who was confident enough to speak up to the mill management about wages and other working conditions. To reflect the reflective rather than involved mood of this scene, it is narrated rather than sung.

Low pay, 
Not organised,
No voice.


Among them Mary Brooksbank,
Fearless woman 
Whose voice could not be silenced.

Campaigning relentlessly for higher pay,
One with the thousands of millgirls.

Copyright text, image and words Petra Vergunst

Higher wages

Higher Wages is the third scene of We Can Dance, We Can Swing. In scene 2 one of the millgirls spoke about how her own experiences of work in the jute industry gave her the strength to speak up and make her voice heard.  In the third scene she raises her voice and relates the millgirls' demands for higher wages to the mill management. This scene opens with a speech choir demanding higher wages, after which the millgirl raises her voice in recitative (this is where the recording starts). The speech choir returns briefly, before the millgirl and mill manager assert their standpoints in a duet.

Speech choir:
Higher wages!
Higher wages!
We are after higher wages.

In your smart suit
You eat salmon 
While you pour yourself another glass of wine.
Your workers
Live five, six in a room
The clothes the Parish gave them full of dust
Eating bread
Neighbours gave them.

Speech choir:
Higher wages!
Higher wages!
We are after higher wages!

We millgirls need better pay
To feed our children
And our husbands
We need, we need better pay.

Mill manager:
Higher wages? Higher wages?
I won't give you higher wages
Payrise? Gates closed!
Remember that.

Copyright text, words and music Petra Vergunst

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Contribute creatively

The community music project Hear the Drum will start in October with three days of participative storyline development at Drum Castle,Garden and Estate. On the 6th, 7th and 13th of October I will spent time in the castle, tower and woodlands of Drum to write the storylines for three opera-inspired musical compositions. Visitors will be invited to contribute to this process creatively through drawing and writing, thereby pointing at aspects of the story they want to illuminate and filling in conversations, thoughts and feelings. I will then use this material to compose the music for three hour-long voice workshops that will be held in the Drawing Room of Drum Castle on the 1st of December.

On Saturday 6 October you can find me in the Drawing Room of Drum Castle, conjuring up a scene of music making. I’ll be imagining a situation in which residents of Drum Castle are playing piano and singing together. The library at Drum Castle contains volumes of Scottish minstrelsy and songs by Burns. Depending on the conversations and other creative contributions of visitors this storyline may well explore the sociality of music making or how already in the 19th century the singing of Scottish songs was, in part, an expression of being Scottish.

On Sunday 7 October I’ll take residence in the Great Hall of the Tower of Drum. Here, I will imagine what the actual conversation between King Robert the Bruce and William de Irwyn might have been like when the former handed over the rights of Drum to the latter, what may have gone through William de Irwyn’s mind when he approached Drum, and what a ceremonial arrival at Drum might have sounded like. 

On Saturday 13 October I’ll hold up near the entrance of the Old Woods of Drum, inviting people to help me develop a storyline based on a line by Mary Irvine: ‘I lang wish my brother to be at more pains to propagate trees about Drum as I think they might be profitable as well as pretty.’ Mary Irvine was the sister of the 17th laird. She ran the estate for periods during the mid-1700s while her brother pursued the Jacobite cause and fought at Culloden. One possible way to develop this storyline is by imagining Mary’s thoughts and reflections about the woods. This flow of thoughts and reflections can at times be interspersed as Mary gets distracted by thoughts of her brother and the Jacobite cause. Here, visitors may help to fill in the thoughts, reflections and feelings that occupy Mary’s mind.

On each of the three above-mentioned days I’ll be resident in the locations from 11 am to 3 pm. For more information about the project, please contact The National Trust of Scotland's senior assistant Laura Paterson at 0844 493 2161 or ljpaterson@nts.org.uk or myself, community musician Petra Vergunst, at petravergunst@hotmail.com

Copyright text and image Petra Vergunst

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Still a young girl

Still a Young Girl is the second scene of We Can Dance, We Can Swing. This music has been written and composed as part of the community music project Warp and Weft that celebrates the 500th anniversary of the weaving trade in Dundee. Scene 1 can be listened to on the blog Friday Night. In the second scene, one of the millgirls steps forward to remind her friends of the unhealthy conditions in the mills and the difficulties many of them face in feeding their families. The scene consists of a duet between a mezzo soprano and violin, with the chorus, cello and flute joining in towards to end. The words and music of the second scene are:

I started, still a young girl
As shifter at Dudhope
Left my education
Got ten and nine to cope.

My mother had five children
Two are among the dead
The Parish gave us dresses
Our neighbours gave us bread.

Megan was a spinner
A big sister, My Lord
Jute gave us fever
A doctor, we could not afford.

I know that I must speak
Make my voice be heard
For the sake of Megan
Fear I will not avert.

We know that we must speak
Make our voice be heard
For the sake of Megan
Fear we will not avert.

Copyright text, words and music Petra Vergunst

Friday night

We Can Dance, We Can Sing, the opera-inspired musical outcome of the community music project Warp and Weft that celebrates the 500th anniversary of the weaving trade in Dundee, consists of five scenes. In the first scene the millgirls are out in town, dancing and sharing the latest gossip. It is written for chorus, flute, violin and cello. Here are the words and music:
Millgirls, it’s Friday night
Time to go out
We’ll dance and we’ll swing
Till the latest bus
Walk with our chums
Down the Monkey Parade
We walk and we chat
Till it is late.

Our Lilly started
When she was fifteen
Spinning and winding
Alongside Jean
Working there too
Are her mother and Jen
Her auntie Sally
And uncle Ken.

Did you hear
Mary will get married to Clive?
Soon she’ll have children
Three, four or five
They will soon join her
To Bower Mill
Shifters to start with
To pay the bills.

We can dance, we can swing
Stay out late, loudly sing
We are girls,
Girls of the mills.

Copyright text, words and music Petra Vergunst

Singers and players wanted

Singers and players are now being recruited for a singing event at Verdant Works.

The event, on Saturday 27 October, will be the culmination of the community music project Warp and Weft. This project, commissioned by Dundee Heritage Trust with money from Dundee' Weaver Craft, celebrates the 500th anniversary of the weaving trade in Dundee.

The public singing event consists of a workshop to rehearse We Can Dance, We Can Swing, a ten-minute work for narrator, mezzo soprano, baritone, chorus, flute, violin and cello, written and composed by community musician Petra Vergunst.  The libretto is inspired by conversations with people who used to work in the jute industry or had family who did so, held during a Memories Weekend at Verdant Works last August.  

For the workshop on 27 October, community musician Petra Vergunst is looking for a mezzo soprano and a baritone to sing solo parts and a duet. She is also looking for people to play flute, violin, cello or any other orchestral instrument to accompany the singers. There will be no auditions, but it is expected that the soloists have some singing experience (e.g. in a choir) and can read music, and that the instrumentalists have reached grade 5 (or have equivalent experience) on their respective instruments. To join the chorus singing experience is not required. 

The soloists and instrumentalists are expected to be available for a rehearsal on Monday 22 October from 5 to 8 pm at Discovery Point and a further rehearsal on Saturday 27 October from 11 am to 12 noon at Verdant Works. The workshop itself will take place on 27 October from 1 to 3 pm, followed by an informal performance for friends and family at 3.30 pm. 

If you want to sing a solo part or play an instrument and would like to accompany the singers, please sent Petra Vergunst an email (petravergunst@hotmail.com) by Sunday 7 October. Singers of all abilities are welcome to join the chorus. If you want to join the chorus please contact Petra Vergunst by Wednesday 17 October. Participation in the singing event is free. 

For more information about the community music project Warp and Weft itself, please contact Dundee Heritage Trust’s Education and Community Outreach Officer Brian Kelly at education@dundeeheritage.co.uk.

Copyright text and image Petra Vergunst