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 anne@sound-scotland.co.uk. 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

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