One of the common threads in my community music practice is that the place that inspired the music is also the place where it is rehearsed and performed with participants. In the Warp and Weft project at Verdant Works, the music, inspired by the jute industry of Dundee, was rehearsed in a former mill. In Hear the Drum, a project with the National Trust for Scotland, the music inspired by the Tower of Drum was sung and acted out with school children in the castle earlier this week.
In October, I participated in Out of the Box, a weekend of site-specific opera performed in lighthouses, horse stables, hotel apartments and pubs. Pippa Murhy’s opera Bolted, about the tension that may arise when a young woman loves her boyfriend as well as her horse, was performed in a stable. The ambiance and physical properties provided by the stable replaced the need for scenery and props that might have been needed if the opera had been performed in the more traditional opera setting of a theatre. Yet, the opera could have been performed in any stable. This is not to deny that the stable contributed significantly to the ambiance of the opera, but it was merely the physical properties of the space that did so, not the history and personal stories engrained in the place. In contrast, the site-specific music I compose for rehearsal and performance in my community music projects has this extended link to place. School children thus sung and acted out scenes that were inspired by the history and stories of the tower of Drum.
So what are the merits of engaging with music that is inspired by the physical properties, history and stories of the place in which it is rehearsed and performed? Mapping the Terrain, a book about new genre public art edited by Suzanne Lacy, opens with a picture of a women, obviously a passer-by, standing still to read some of the text that is being written on the pavement by artists. This image captures the essence of site-specific music as well: the creation of an experience for participants or the wider public that makes a place memorable.
During the first two days of workshops with primary schools at Drum Castle this week, children left the room chatting about who would be King Robert the Bruce. During the lunch break, I heard some other children singing ‘Open the doors!’. Through the music of Drum I’ve been able to tell the story of how Drum became a place to be reckoned with. Through singing, talking about the historical events, and acting out the scenes, Drum Castle became a memorable place for the children.
Copyright text Petra Vergunst
Pictures taken by Laura Paterson (National Trust for Scotland)