Seascapes Music Workshop in Dunblane 29th May

A creative music workshop for 10-14 year-olds exploring the sounds of the sea and its creatures!
with Nordic Viola

We will explore the sounds of the sea and its environment using musical instruments, recorded animal and bird sounds and our own voices, and think about the effect humans have on wildlife in our seas.

The workshop will take place in the upstairs gallery at Weigh Ahead on Dunblane High Street.

In the morning we will learn a sea jig that we can perform outside Weigh Ahead as the Dunblane Road Race runners pass.

After a short lunch on the drying green, we will work together creatively on a short musical seascape.

No musical experience required, though please bring an instrument if you have one. We will provide simple instruments. Bring along something that could become sea waste – e.g. plastic bottle, twine, old plastic tubs/buckets.

Bring a packed lunch and your waterproofs!

Sign-up via Eventbrite:

Nordic Viola is grateful for support from Dunblane businesses Weigh Ahead, Green Clean and Allanview Windows and Doors Ltd whose generous donations are enabling us to offer this workshop free of charge. Voluntary donations will contribute to Nordic Viola’s performances at Edinburgh Festival Fringe this summer.

Schools workshops and traditional music sessions in Orkney


I arrived in Orkney on Monday after a very calm crossing of the Pentland Firth. Tuesday morning I was straight into a very full day’s work up at Kirkwall Grammar School. I started off meeting the viola instructors and working through some ABRSM repertoire as well as talking about all things viola-related.

After being well fed and watered in the staff room I hooked up with Gemma McGregor to work with young people ranging from S2 to S6 (so right the way through High School) on a composition workshop based on sounds from the Far North. It was a completely different way of working with music for most of the young people, but they embraced it with enthusiasm, recreating the sounds of creaking glaciers, birdlife, the wind and sea. I was impressed with the imagination they showed. It’s a big ask to create a group improvisation in 20 minutes or so, especially when it’s a new way of working. We asked Gemma how long it would take to write a 5-minute piece which was fully notated and she reckoned about 3 weeks, which helped the young people appreciate what they’d achieved.

Today Gemma and I travelled across Mainland on a dreich morning to work with the music students in Stromness. This time we were working with young people from National 5 and Higher Music classes, so we focused in a bit more on the compositional techniques we were using, especially timbre and structure. We started off by listening to recordings of geese, the sea, an Inuit song and ice and ravens recorded in Greenland. We created 4 very different pieces of music, from atmospheric soundscapes to a piece with guitars and vocalising that focused on the more entertaining aspects of the Inuit “Entertaining Song”!  There was lots of fun and laughter and we all enjoyed exploring instruments in new and different ways.

I finished the morning playing along with the string orchestra. Playing side-by-side is something I always enjoy doing and I’ve done it in most of the countries I’ve visited.

Many thanks to Creative Scotland, the Hinrichsen Foundation, RVW Trust and the Hope Scott Trust for their support, which enabled us to work with Orkney’s young people.

After lunch in the beautiful town of Stromness, I took the bus back to Kirkwall and spent some time in the beautiful 12th Century St. Magnus Cathedral. I find this building especially magical at dusk, with its warm red sandstone. St Magnus’ relics are in the building and there is the tomb of John Rae, the Arctic explorer born in Orkney who found the final portion of the Northwest Passage and reported the fate of Franklin’s lost expedition. It is, of course, just 3 days since the commemoration of the centenary of the Armistice and there were many reminders of Orkney’s part in the two world wars. A display of poppies on the altar was particularly striking against the sandstone.

After tea, Gemma took me down to the Fiddle and Accordion club at the Reel, the wonderful traditional music centre founded by Orkney’s famous Wrigley sisters. The best way to learn traditional music is to sit down and play it. I had a really fun evening and learned lots of new tunes, including some Scandinavian ones. Nice to see young and old playing together and to be made so welcome as a visitor.

Tomorrow, one of our transport sponsors, Loganair, will be carrying my other musicians over to Orkney. I’m looking forward to hooking up with Peter and Anne again and also playing a couple of tunes in the airport!

CS_Lottery_SB_bwHope_Scott_Logo_Red_gallery_imagervw trust logo-masterHinrichsen logo001 northlink rgbLoganair-Logo

Nordic Viola plays Orkney, November 2018


Supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland

Following our successful tour of the Faroe Islands in July Nordic Viola is excited to announce that we will be travelling to Orkney in November.

Concert King Street Halls, Kirkwall 7:30pm


The main event of the week will be a concert for string trio in which we will be joined by Orkney composer and flautist, Gemma McGregor.

Music from Orkney and Shetlanddscn3604

Our programme will feature Gemma’s intensely passionate string trio, “Betrayal”, drawn from her opera “The Story of Magnus Erlendsson”, which was premiered at the St. Magnus Festival in 2017.

We will also play traditional music by Orkney fiddler Fiona Driver alongside that of her friend and colleague Margaret Robertson from Shetland. A few other traditional Orkney tunes will creep into our programme, alongside folk music from Greenland.

Lillie Harris’ piece AND shows us Shetland in stormy mood, with Adrian Vernon Fish’s Uyeasound Nocturne depicting the calm after the storm.


Iceland and Greenland

cropped-dscn3777.jpgThe second half of our concert features music from and about Iceland and Greenland. We start with Sigurbjörnsson’s delightful arrangements of Icelandic folk tunes, “Fiðlufrænkur.”

This is followed by the Finale from Adrian Vernon Fish’s string trio, “Sermitsiaq”, which describes the iconic mountain of the same name that towers over Nuuk, Greenland’s capital. I know from my own long stay in Nuuk that this mountain’s moods are many and varied: by turns a benign guardian of the city or an imposing monolithic presence. Adrian depicts this perfectly with a lively fugue before the piece ends in quiet, reflective tones.

We end the programme with Arnannguaq Gerstrøm’s engagingly beautiful description of winter in the Far North, “Ukioq”. We were lucky enough to have Arnannguaq join us in Glasgow earlier this year when the piece was premiered in the RSNO Chamber Series and she shared many stories with the musicians about life in Greenland which helped us bring this beautiful music, which so vividly depicts the joy of a crisp, snowy landscape, to life.



Following on from my previous trips north, I will once again be working with young people in Orkney’s schools on creative projects and in school orchestras. Hopefully we’ll be able to show you some of our work after the trip.

I’ll also be learning more about Orkney’s music with Gemma McGregor and Fiona Driver. Gemma sparked my interest in the ancient musi of Orkney when I first met her at Sound Festival in Aberdeen last year and Fiona and I share an interest in the sounds of nature and how we can use that in our music. Again, I hope these ideas will feed into future programmes, not least when I travel up to Iceland in March!


The project is generously supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland.


as well as the Hinrichsen Foundation.

We are also grateful for help towards our transport costs from Loganair and Northlink.


001 northlink rgb


After visiting the Faroe Islands alone in 2016, it was a great pleasure to perform with my Nordic Viola Ensemble in 2 concerts as part of Sumartónar on 5th July. This time we were Janet Larsson (flute and piccolo), David Martin and I (violas) and Joost Bosdijk (bassoon).


Beginning in 1984, Faroese composers started organizing concerts of their own music together with works by international composers. After establishing the Association of Faroese Composers (Felagið Føroysk Tónaskøld) in 1987, these concerts became more regular, especially with the annual Spring Concert and a series of concerts over the summer in collaboration with the Listasavn Føroya (the Faroese Art Gallery). In 1991 a concert with works by several Faroese composers was presented at the St Magnus Festival in Orkney. After participating in a festival in a community comparable with the Faroe Islands, the Faroese composers decided to establish a similar festival the following year in the Faroes. Since these early years, the musical scene in the Faroes has gone from strength to strength and the festival reflects the diversity and creativity of today’s musicians who bring Faroese music to the world and international music to the Faroes.


Our programme contained works by Faroese composers Kári Bæk and Kristian Blak as well as pieces inspired by Faroese music by me and Arnannguaq Gerstrøm. We also played a piece based on tunes from Orkney by Judith Weir and a set of Shetland tunes inspired by fishing and whaling trips to Greenland and the Faroes in days gone by. (For more details, see blog below).

I met Kristian back in 2016 and spent a lot of time talking to him about his solo viola piece “Tístram”. It was a real pleasure this time to meet Kári Bæk and rehearse “Vár Trio” and “Fragment” with his input.

When I visited Shetland in November 2016, I composed a piece in conjunction with Margaret Robertson’s fiddle students at Anderson High School. We took as our basis a fragment of a Faroese tune and imagined it seen through the mists over the sea between Shetland and the Faroes. Many a time on my travels people have mentioned how frustrating it is that these archipelagos, with their shared heritage, have no direct transport link. This slightly wistful piece is my response to this.

We were joined on this occasion by two students from Tórshavn music school, Nancy Nónskarð Dam and Bergur Davidsen. We met and rehearsed together for the first time two days before the concert and they fitted in wonderfully with us – a real credit to their teacher, Jona Jacobsen. You can hear their performance here. One day I hope to perform this piece with students from both sets of islands.


It was an absolute pleasure to perform in the beautiful “Klingran” space in the Nordic House. There are views over Tórshavn through the big glass windows and the performing space is separated from the foyer and café by a glass panel. I love the fact that the space is lit by natural light and that there is no big barrier between the concert and people casually walking into the building. All these things increase the accessibility of music. The acoustics are brilliant, too. It’s an intimate, warm sound that lets every detail shine through. As in my previous concert in the Havnar Kirkja in 2016, the wind was determined to play its part, joining in with the wind effects at the beginning of Arnannguaq Gerstrøm’s “Ukioq”!

We enjoyed playing to an almost full house including Kári, Kristian and many of our friends from the music school. I don’t know whether the Faroese chain dance is to thank for this, but there was some particularly energetic foot stamping in the encore!


2013_far_sundini_brFortified by a good old fish supper (well, we are from Scotland!) we drove up through the island of Streymoy and over the only bridge over the Atlantic to Esturoy. (This is a Faroese claim – the residents of Kylesku and Skye may wish to dispute that one!) We then drove down through Esturoy to the small village of Rituvík, population 256. (One of the features of Summartónar is that it’s not confined to the capital city, but rather visits many small communities around the islands – something that is also central to the ethos of Nordic Viola.) The journey took one and a quarter hours. Once the new Esturoy tunnel (complete with a subsea roundabout!) is built, this journey of 40 miles will be reduced to 17 miles.

Rituvík church was also beautiful to play in. It was a small, intimate space with a small, intimate yet appreciative audience!

A very long and busy day but much enjoyed by all the musicians. My thanks to Janet, Joost and David and to Dًávur for being our roadie for the day!

A big thank you to the Nordic House and Fróði Vestergaard, not only for looking after us on the concert day but also for providing beautiful accommodation in the conference suite for David and I.

Most of all, thanks to Kristian Blak for organising Summartónar each year. With concerts from May to August, it is a massive undertaking. We hope we’ll be back to play soon!

Dunblane School Workshops


Working with young people has been an important part of Nordic Viola right from the outset. In the run-up to our Dunblane Cathedral Arts Guild concert on Sunday 1st Octobert, flautist Helen Brew and I spent yesterday up at Dunblane High School.

First up was a composition workshop with Advanced Higher Music students. We introduced them to ways of depicting northern landscapes in music. We talked about incorporating recorded sounds from nature into music, either by using the soundtrack itself in the music, or by imitating sounds of nature on our instruments. We also looked at some traditional melodies and talked about how we could draw motifs from these and use techniques such as imitation and canon to develop them.

In the short time we had available, we improvised as a group, setting up a texture to mimic the sounds of ice and wind. We then started laying on top of that fragments of an Inuit entertaining song.

We were just getting into a groove when, unfortunately, the bell went. Hopefully we opened the students’ eyes to new ways of creating music, discovering sounds they never new they had in their instruments!

After school we gathered in the school hall with the orchestra. I was astonished, first of all, at the number of musicians in the school and, secondly, at their sight-reading abilities. We spent an enjoyable hour playing through tunes from Shetland, Orkney and Iceland, all of which my own ensemble will be playing on Sunday.

Thanks go to Dunblane Cathedral Arts Guild for setting up the visit and to Dunblane High School for hosting us. We look forward to entertaining some of the young people and their parents on Sunday afternoon. As well as a wide range of music from the North Atlantic, there will be tales from mine and others’ travels as well as some images of the region to accompany tea and coffee in the interval.

Nordic Viola – 1 year on

One year ago I was about halfway through the first phase of my sabbatical. After two wonderful weeks in the Faroes, I’d just returned to Iceland and was preparing for a concert in the beautiful Bláa Kirkja in Seðisfjörður.


It’s perhaps fitting, then, that the coming month is going to be one of the busiest yet for Nordic Viola.

Composing the North!


Things kick off on 25th September in Dunblane High School. Flautist Helen Brew and I will be spending the morning working with four Higher Music students on a composition workshop. Using sounds recorded in Greenland, the Faroes and perhaps even Dunblane, we’ll be exploring how we can use sounds from the natural world to inspire our music making. Maybe we’ll use live sounds in our pieces, or maybe we’ll try imitating them on our own instruments – it’ll be up to the students. We’ll also look at incorporating elements of traditional music into compositions.

Dunblane School Orchestra

After school, Helen and I will work on some music from Iceland, Orkney and Shetland with the school orchestra. I’m sure we’ll have a lot of fun playing together and hopefully whet the students’ appetites for our concert the following Sunday.

 Dunblane Cathedral Concert

DHXUKqAXUAAgsX6.jpg large

The concert is in Dunblane Cathedral at 3pm on 1st October and is promoted by the Cathedral Arts Guild. We have a brand new piece by Greenlandic composer, Arnannguaq Gerstrøm. It’s called “Ukioq”, which is Greenlandic for “Winter”. Arnannguaq has created some wonderful “icy” effects from flute, viola and bassoon. I love the way that, as well as the sterner aspects of winter, there is a lot of playfulness in the piece. Alongside this lively new piece there’ll be traditional tunes from the North Atlantic and possibly even a mystery guest!

Aberdeen Sound Festival

Later in October I’ll be at the Sound Festival in October, exploring whether we can pin down a “sound of the north.” More on that nearer the time.

Music and Art in Nuuk

I feel very privileged to have experienced a wealth of culture in Nuuk this week. Last week was about playing and teaching for me. This week has been about enjoying other people’s efforts.

Hanne Sandvig Immanuelsen’s Classical Festival has been running all week. It must have taken a lot of effort on Hanne’s part to put this together. Bringing 8 musicians from across the Nordic countries to Greenland takes a lot of organisation and fund-raising. On top of that, Hanne herself was playing first violin in a couple of tricky pieces and also had her own pupils to teach.

Speaking of which, it was great to see the senior string students playing alongside the professionals in some of the pieces in the gala concert on Thursday.17022120_10212282725083088_5611576417340324084_n We do a lot of side-by-side projects with the RSNO. I’ve never had the chance to step outside and listen, but this week showed very clearly how young people step up when they are joined by professional players. Quite aside from all the amazing experiences I’ve had in the last 6 months, that in itself will inspire my work when I go home.


Kids were to the fore again in the Sunday Brunch concert, this time in the audience. I say audience, but that’s too formal for the setting in Katuaq’s foyer. In this wonderfully adaptable cultural centre, the “brunchers” were eating in the small hall, it’s walls drawn back, whilst the musicians were right in the foyer. The space around them gave young children the chance to get up close. Sometimes I was more focused on the kids than the music, watching their fascination with the double bass, crawling under the piano to get close to the sound and dancing to the music. What a lovely way to present music to people. The playing was good, too, with a mix of chamber works by Mozart, Schubert, Haydn, Tchaikovsky and Lumbye, the Danish Strauss.

Saturday night was a different kind of gig with Greenlandic singer Frederik Elsner and his band, also drawn from across the Nordic region. In a nice twist, this was the most formal concert of the week. Nice to see preconceptions and expectations being pushed aside and people enjoying all kinds of music in all kinds of settings for it’s own sake. Greenland, I’m impressed!

On Thursday I also visited the art museum. I was especially impressed by the current exhibition of photography by Jette Bang, a Dane working as far back as the ’40s. Beautiful portraits showing the very different life in Greenland a generation ago. The exhibition space was superb, too. Adele, if you’re reading this, you’d love it. That Arctic light reflecting off the snow outside coming in through long windows has a beautiful quality.

With so much culture around me, I was inspired to do some composing myself, with a piece for flute, 2 violas and bassoon inspired by the brittleness and wildness of this icy world. I’ve got some recordings of natural sound that I’d like to incorporate, but that’ll test my technical competence when I get home.
Talking of iciness, we’ve been down into the minus 20s this weekend. Now even I will own that that is cold. I find it invigorating when the sun is out but the wind is biting and quite sore on the bits of my face I can’t manage to cover!

I’ve sadly only got 3 more days left, so this is probably my last blog from Greenland. It’s been an amazing month. Time has flown by as there has been so much to learn and experience. I can’t resist adding just a few more pictures of this very beautiful country!

Greenlandic Music and Culture


Musikskolen, Nuuk

One week into my stay in Greenland and it was time to get to work. I’m going to be teaching and playing at the music school most of this week, prior to a concert in the Hans Egede church next Thursday. Nuuk’s music school is thriving with a string orchestra and chamber groups under the tutelage of Hanne Sandvig Immanuelsen. After communicating with Hanne by email for the best part of a year, it was lovely to finally meet.

The afternoon started with a viola sectional before a full orchestral rehearsal. It was a real treat, too, to play with the children’s choir from Nuuk. I love listening to the beautiful Greenlandic language. I wish I could speak it, but I’ve enough on learning Danish. It’s quite challenging teaching through another language, but music is so universal and also children are so patient with language learners, something I’ve found throughout my journey. After the rehearsal I joined in with a quartet playing “Let it Go” from “Frozen”. Apt enough!

As if Hanne didn’t have her hands full enough with the school, she is also organising a week-long classical music festival in Katuaq, the cultural centre.


Musicians are coming from around the Nordic countries to play. Unfortunately for me there are enough viola players – even I would concede that 3 violas to 2 each of first and second violins would be a little overkill. I get plenty of chances to play at home and for Hanne it’s a well-earned chance to play with other professionals. It’s good for my work/life balance anyhow – ski in the morning, concert afternoon/evening! Perfect!

Arnannguaq Gerstrøm


On Monday I’m having dinner with Arnannguaq Gerstrøm, a flautist and composer who has had her music performed in Copenhagen and the wonderful Harpa concert hall in Reykjavik. I’ve asked Arnannguaq to write a piece for flute, viola and bassoon to complement Faroese composer Kári Bæk’s “Vár Trio” which Helen, Dave and I performed last August. I know from working with Lillie Harris that it’s a really exciting thing to have a piece written for you and it creates a real bond between you and the composer. It’s also a massive challenge, as obviously the piece has no performance history to fall back on. It’s entirely up to you to decide how the score should be interpreted. Arnannguaq’s piece should be finished by June and I hope to perform it sometime over the summer for the first time, followed by a performance as part of the RSNO Chamber Series on 21st January 2018.

Greenland’s music

Drum Dances


I had a look round the Greenland National Museum the other day and learned a bit more about the country’s music. Many of you will remember from earlier concerts I’ve played that drum songs were a central part of the culture and were used as entertainment but also to settle disputes. In duels (iverneq) songs (pisit) would be delivered in turn until one person either surrendered or ran out of arguments. The audience were part of the judging process too. Shamans would also use the drum song in séances and trances.

European whalers brought polkas and dance music in the 17th and 18th century. These included Shetlanders and I have a set of tunes from Shetland inspired by Greenland. Shetland fiddler Maurice Henderson made his own journey to Greenland to find the origin of the tune “Willafjord” and has produced a beautiful book published by the Shetland Times. German Moravian Brethren missionaries brought wind instruments and there was a fine case of brass instruments in the museum.

Greenland’s Music Today

From the 70s there has been a move towards more political writing with many fine bands writing music with an anti-colonial message as well as drawing on Inuit music for inspiration. And so the story comes full circle.

My next job will be to root around in Atlantic records and see what I can find to take home with me. I may not have a solo concert on this trip, but actually that may be a good thing. There’s a lot to assimilate and a lot to learn. A lot of music should come out of this month and the performances can come later. I’d like an excuse to come back here again, anyway!



A week tomorrow I’ll be on my way to Reykjavik en route to Greenland, the last trip on my sabbatical. I really can’t wait. Visiting Greenland in July 2015 was really what sparked this whole project off. First and foremost, it is an astonishingly beautiful country. It was that sheer beauty and the assault on the senses that sparked my desire to create my own music again – something I hadn’t had time to do for years.

Life as a professional orchestral musician is extremely busy. We have a full schedule and on top of that, many of us enjoy teaching too. I’m not complaining, because I love my job, but by the time you’ve added in friends and some time to kick back outdoors, there really aren’t many hours left in the day. That’s why it was so important to me to create some space in my life and do what I wanted to do artistically for a while.


I’ve enjoyed reading a bit more about Greenland and watching a few more documentaries on the country to learn as much as I can before I go. I’m constantly referring back to Gretel Ehrlich’s “This Cold Heaven.” It’s one of the most eloquent, inspiring books I’ve ever read. I also discovered that Shetland fiddler, Maurice Henderson of the band “Fiddler’s Bid”, had recently made his own journey to Greenland to research the tune “Willafjord”. His book is beautiful and Maurice passed on some useful tips for me.

In Shetland I loved seeing the connections between those islands and the Faroes and the connection goes further with Greenland. Seafarers from both archipelogos travelled frequently to Greenland in the whaling days and Maurice put me on the trail of some Greenland-inspired traditional tunes, which I’ve put together in a set. I already have an improvisation on an Inuit theme in my repertoire. It’s been through a few incarnations and has developed through collaborations with my husband, David Martin and with Charles Ross in Iceland, with his wonderful throat singing.

It has always been my aim on this journey to work with new composers and I have just commissioned Arnannguaq Gerstrøm to write me a piece for Flute/Viola/Bassoon to compliment Kári Bæk’s Faroese “Vár Trio” which I played with Helen Brew and Dave Hubbard last summer. Arnannguaq is a flautist herself and is building a name for herself on the Nordic circuit with recent performances of her work in Copenhagen and Reykjavik. I’m really looking forward to meeting her in Nuuk. One day I’ll get time to play Adrian Vernon Fish’s “Sermitsiaq Trio”, too. It’s inspired by the mountain near Nuuk and I want to perform it in a concert when I get home. Adrian has travelled extensively in Greenland and has been a great support throughout my project.

Working with young people has been one of the most fun aspects of this last 6 months and I’ve done so many different things – teaching, coaching, side-by-side work and improvising. I have a day at the Nuuk Musikskolen courtesy of violinist/violist Hanne Sandvig Immanuelsen. I’m really looking forward to that as it looks like Hanne has done some incredible things there and is a real life-force in Greenlandic music-making. I will also play in her orchestra as part of a music festival which is fortuitously taking place whilst I’m there.

So that’s the artistic stuff, but what most people seem to want to know is “how cold will it be?” and “is it dark all the time?” Well, at the moment, yes it’s cold. If you’re curious, take a look here. I like the cold, though, and I have plenty of insulating clothes. Actually, after the rubbish winter we’re having here in Scotland, I can’t wait to get some good snow. As for daylight, there’ll be about 7 and a quarter hours’ daylight when I arrive – more than Shetland had when I left there – and by the time I leave it’ll be up to 10h20. You’ll pretty much see a day on day difference with that rate of change. I love this website.

I’ll update the blog when I can and, at the very latest, when I get back. I’m sure there’ll be stories to tell, so please keep in touch.