Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Poetry walk pictures

My friend Yiannitsa Cegarra took some pictures during the poetry walk at Bennachie. In her photos she wanted to respond to some of the poems I was reading. Thanks Yiann!


One in the late summer birch wood
Knee-deep in heather flowers

the trees' small heart-shaped leaves
glistened at the sun after a summer shower.

Beneath it a spider cobweb
spun between blaeberry twigs
hung heavy with heaven raindrop pearls.

I remember this in the same way
as the shelled settlement

a few strides further up the path
so as to not to forget

what kindled the squatters' fire.

Copyright poem Petra Vergunst, copyright images Yiannitsa Cegarra

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Family Business

A composer, a miller, his wife and son, and the mill wheel – the ingredients of a new piece I’m composing for soundlab, Aberdeen’s new music ensemble led by clarinettist Jo Nicholson for a performance on Sunday 16 November.

On of the most interesting moments during my project Burn of Sound at Muir of Dinnet was when during a walk I took my participants to the viewpoint from where one can look over Loch Kinord. It was here that we met Paul Anderson who, for the project Atomic Doric that he was involved in, was composing a number of fiddle tunes inspired by the loch. He generously played some of his tunes for us.

This was a chance encounter that set me thinking. If Paul Anderson, a celebrated fiddle player and composer, found inspiration for his music in the area in which he lives, who was I then as a composer of contemporary classical music? The classical music tradition that informed my composition training suddenly seemed remote in both time and space. When we listen to a Haydn string quartet the music stems from a society and time distant from us. Moreover, here was Paul Anderson performing his music within touching distance, happily chatting with us in between tunes. No raised concert stage epitomising the untouchability and celebrity of performers of classical music as I was familiar with. Though I had long been aware of the different socio-cultural, geographical and historical relations in traditional and classical music, it was this meeting that really brought home it significance for me and questioned who I wanted to be as a composer.

The questions raised were still fresh in my mind when I spoke to sound last year about composing something for soundlab. With James Scott Skinner being a fiddle player and composer from Banchory the idea seemed obvious: what I would be looking for was a contemporary reinterpretation of some of James Scott Skinner’s music to highlight the way traditional music is inspired by our own environs and society and I was going to use this to revitalise my own contemporary classical music. In exploring the life and music of James Scott Skinner I was soon struck by a set of four strathspeys dedicated to the miller of Hirn, his wife, his son and the mill wheel. Hirn being just a few miles northeast of Banchory, I imagined the composer visiting his miller friend of many occasions.  

Family Business is composed for soundlab, a contemporary music group with a flexible group of musicians playing a wide range of orchestral, traditional and lesser known instruments (including voice). The work will be programmed alongside some traditional tunes and we are looking for some traditional musicians to join soundlab for this performance to help us get to grips with strathspeys and reels. If you want to join us, please contact Anne Watson at There will be a rehearsal on Sunday 2 November from 10 am to 2 pm with a further rehearsal and performance taking place on Sunday 16 November from 12 noon to 5 pm. Both the rehearsal and performance will be at the Phoenix Community Centre, Newton Dee Village, Bieldside.

Copyright text and image Petra Vergunst

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Have: Not Have

Though Whispers in the Woods is behind me, the project has raised many questions that will stay with me for some time. The Colonists settled on land to which their communities had access, but lairds eventually divided this land between them, in turn dispossessing the Colonists from land to which their community had access. These questions about possession and dispossession are important  in our private lives as well. What does our home mean to us and how do we feel when we’re dispossessed? What does the watch we inherited from our grandmother mean to us and how do we feel when we lose it?

In Have: Not Have I hope to explore some of these questions – not least within the context of consumerism. On our travels we buy souvenirs, for ourselves or to give them to neighbours for  looking after our plants while we were away. Many of these souvenirs we eventually throw away. Why did we buy them and why did they lose their meaning? Likewise, we rush to get our Christmas shopping done, anticipate how others will react to the presents we buy them, but often find it hard to find the ultimate present. What really is meaningful to us and to what extent can this be expressed through objects?
She looked at the shape of the p
at the end of her name –
the key in the palm of her hand

She had felt the pen
scratch the paper –
deposit time

The lines and curves that filled the blank space
incised sunset garden suppers
friends around kitchen tables
her bike in the shed for Sunday rides

She put down her pen
turned over the paper
read the Braille inscription.

Copyright text and poem Petra Vergunst

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Whispers in the Woods

Here some photos of the Whispers in the Woods events last Saturday.

A big thank you to The Hope Scott Trust, Forestry Commission Scotland, sound, The Bailies of Bennachie, The Dee String Quartet and The New Words Festival for generously supporting the project.

Griselda McGregor wrote a review of the event which can be found on the New Words 2014 website.

On 6 September shmuFM's Literature Show was dedicated to this project. As part of the programme I read quite a few of the poems from my pamphlet Whispers in the Woods. You can listen back to this programme here.

If you wanted to order a copy of my pamphlet (£5 incl. p&p), please send me an email at