Whale Song

Sunday 8th August, Fishmarket Arbroath 2020+1 12pm

A new collaborative performance of music and poetry inspired by whale song, devised by poet Lesley Harrison with viola player Katherine Wren and clarinettist Alex South.Tickets available here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/…/whale-song-live-poetry…

Alex and I have composed new pieces around the poetry from Lesley’s recent collection, ‘Disappearance’. This performance explores the theme of the voyage of the 19th-century whalers to the polar seas, and the cultural aftermath of the whaling industry.

Our music includes sounds recorded on location in Greenland and Iceland melded with our improvisations and including live electronics. The programme is framed by traditional tunes from the North Atlantic Whalers who travelled from Shetland.

A special screening of CETACEA will follow the live performance.The trio’s music and words meet with marine biologist Michael Scheer’s recordings of pilot whales and Alexander and Nicole Gratovsky’s underwater footage to create the piece CETACEA. This film proved to be one of the most popular events in GIOFest last November. You can listen to the music below:

Arbroath 2020+1 Artworks

Arbroath will be buzzing in this summer-long festival of the Declaration of Arbroath. Why not come to our concert, treat yourself to a fish and chip lunch by the sea and then explore the artworks around town. https://arbroathfestival.com/festival/2021-festival-programme/

Alternatively, if a brisk walk is more your scene, explore the magnificent clifftop walks close to town. I look forward to seeing you there!

Sea Stories – A competition for Young People

Sea Stories-konkurrence – See below

Sea Stories keppni – See below

Are you fascinated by the sea, the sound it makes and the stories it tells?

Are you a young musician aged 12-18 living in the Scottish Islands, Faroes, Iceland or Greenland?

Are you interested in sharing the music and stories of your home country with other young people from around the North Atlantic?

Then this competition from Nordic Viola is for you.

  • Write or record a tune or a short piece of music max. 3 minutes
  • You can play (or sing) the music on your own instrument or with your friends, or you can write a tune for us. We play flute, violin/viola and trombone
  • Send your entry by 5th June 2021
  • You can send your music as a PDF file or you can record mp3 audio or mp4 video
  • Submit your via google forms or email it to nordicviola6@gmail.com with your name, where you come from, a few sentences about your tune and your email address
  • We will select up to 15 tunes
  • Selected entrants will be notified by 7th June 2021 and invited to join a workshop on zoom
  • Following the workshop, one tune will be selected for Nordic Viola’s online concert on 3rd September 2021 for Orkney International Science Festival
  • After the festival we will release a short highlights video from the workshopped pieces

Privacy and safeguarding policy

Sea Stories-konkurrence – Nordic Viola

Bliver du fascineret af havet, havets lyde og de historier, det fortæller?

Er du en ung musiker i alderen 12-18 år, der bor på de skotske øer, Færøerne, Island eller Grønland?

Er du interesseret i at dele musikken og historierne i dit hjemland med andre unge fra hele Nordatlanten?

Så er denne konkurrence fra Nordic Viola noget for dig.

• Skriv eller optag en melodi eller et kort stykke musik max. 3 minutter

• Du kan spille (eller synge) musikken på dit eget instrument eller med dine venner, eller du kan skrive en melodi til os. Vi spiller fløjte, violin/bratsch og basun

• Deadline for tilmelding er 1. juni 2021

• Du kan sende din musik som en PDF-fil, eller du kan optage mp3-audio eller mp4-video

• Indsend via google-formularer eller mail den til nordicviola6@gmail.com med dit navn, hvor du kommer fra, et par sætninger om din melodi og din e-mail-adresse

• Vi vælger op til 15 melodier

• Udvalgte deltagere vil blive underrettet den 7. juni 2021 og opfordres til at deltage i en workshop om zoom

• Efter workshoppen vælges en melodi til Nordic Viola’s online koncert den 3. september 2021 til Orkney International Science Festival

• Efter festivalen frigiver vi en kort video med højdepunkter fra workshop

vores privatlivspolitik

Sea Stories keppni – Nordic Viola

Heillar sjórinn þig ? Hljóðin frá sjónum og sögurnar sem sjórinn geymir?

Ert þú ungur tónlistarmaður á aldrinum 12-18 ára og býrð í Skotlandi, Færeyjum, á Íslandi eða Grænlandi?

Hefðir þú áhuga á að deila tónlist og sögum heimalands þíns með öðru ungu fólki við Norður-Atlanshafið?

Þá gæti þessi keppni frá Nordic Viola verið fyrir þig. 

  • Sendu inn lag , hljóðritað eða á nótum, hámark þrjár mínútur að lengd.
  • Þú getur leikið á þitt aðal hljóðfæri eða sungið , ein/einn eða með öðrum, frumsamdar tónsmíðar velkomnar.
  • Við spilum á flautu, fiðlu/víólu  og básúna.
  • Skilafrestur er til 1. júní 2021.
  • Það má senda tónlistina á mp3, mp4, eða á nótum á pdf-formi.
  • Senda má í gegnum google forms’ eða á netfangið nordicviola6@gmail.com, þar sem fram kemur nafn þitt og netfang , heimaland og stuttur texti um lagið.
  • Við veljum allt að 15 þátttakendur. Þeir verða látnir vita 7. júní 2021 og þeim boðið að taka þátt í tónsmiðju á zoom þann 12. júní.
  • Í framhaldi af smiðjunni verður  eitt laganna  valið til flutnings á tónleikum  í tengslum við hina Alþjóðlegu Vísindahátíð Orkneyjar þann þriðja september 2021,
  • Einnig verða sýnd valin brot úr tónsmiðjunni.

Persónuverndaryfirlýsing

Supported by:

Sagas and Seascapes Launches

2020 saw Nordic Viola’s first foray into online concerts with our popular Histories and Herstories video performance. As our lives open up and we can once more work in the same space, we are excited to announce our new and ambitious Sagas and Seascapes programme which, once again, we will be producing alongside the Orkney International Science Festival.

Norse stories and landscape around the northern sea-routes form the inspiration for this concert. Scottish-based Irish composer Linda Buckley’s Aud draws on the settlement of Iceland, while Lillie Harris’ sextet Elsewhen seeks to capture the atmosphere of Orkney’s ancient sites. In Carry His Relics for flute and viola, Orkney composer Gemma McGregor describes the journey of the remains of St Magnus from Birsay to Kirkwall, along the present-day St Magnus Way. Eli Tausen á Lava from Faroe reflects on legends of the Selkies in Søgnin um Kópakonuna í 10 Myndum for flute and clarinet and his compatriot, Kári Bæk, depicts the ever-changing sea in Wogen. The Danish String Quartet’s dynamic arrangement of The Dromer offers a rousing finale.

Audiences loved film footage of the Far North last year as well as the chance to hear the composers speak about their music, so once again we’ll be working with videographer Craig Sinclair. Composers Linda Buckley and Lillie Harris will travel to Orkney with me to join Orcadian composer Gemma McGregor on location. The composers will share their impressions of the landscapes and ancient sites that inspired their music, offering an insight into their creative processes.

A new and exciting innovation this year is inviting landscape artist Orla Stevens onto the project. In common with the music creators on the project, Orla’s work is influenced by expressive responses to sounds and images of the landscape, as well as the emotional experience that being in nature has on the psyche. In conversation with the composers and incorporating her own emotions on being onsite in Orkney, Orla will develop a series of paintings expressing the emotions of the sagas and seascapes explored through music as the programme mirrors Aud’s journey from Orkney, through the Faroes and finally settling in North-West Iceland.

Making music with young people is fundamental to Nordic Viola. Responding to the challenges of travelling during the pandemic, we’ve decided this year to unite young people from around the North Atlantic by running a competition to write a tune for us. We’ll select up to 20 young people to join in online workshops working with myself, Gemma McGregor and Faroese trombonist Dávur Juul Magnussen to develop their ideas. From these workshops, one piece will be chosen to feature in our main concert video and 5 others will feature in a short video of the project in the autumn. More information on that very soon!

I’ll be keeping you up-to-date as the project progresses. If you want to be amongst the first to hear about our recording sessions next month and our on-location filming in Orkney in June, then why not subscribe?

This exciting and ambitious programme has been made possible through the generous support of the following organisations:

Creative Scotland for general project support

for supporting our commission of linda Buckley’s “Aud”

for supporting the competition and workshops

our partners and hosts

Histories and Herstories – Meet the Composers

I should should have been in Shetland for the next two weeks with my colleagues Emily Nenniger, Anne Bünemann and Ruth Rowlands joining me to perform at UHI’s 5th International St. Magnus Conference. Reflecting the conference’s theme, our concert is entitled “Histories and Herstories” and comprises music by female composers.

All being well, we will perform this concert in April next year, but in the meantime, over the next few weeks I thought I’d introduce you to the composers. Some of these come from the islands of the North Atlantic, others are inspired by the music and landscapes of the region. They all have a story to tell and are emblematic of the way women have contributed to island life. All these composers are freelancers, so please do look them up and consider supporting their work during this difficult period.

Margaret Robertson

I first met Margaret Robertson in November 2016 during my sabbatical in Shetland. I worked with her students at Anderson High School in Lerwick – more on that in the next blog – and learned much about the Shetland school of fiddle playing form her.

Margaret was born into one of the most musical families on the Island of Yell, Shetland. Her maternal family tree is directly descended from Brucie Danielson, the forefather of the Cullivoe traditional style. Brucie taught local players, among them Margaret’s Grandfather Simpson Henderson, his brother Willie Barclay Henderson and their brother in law Bobby Jamieson. Simpson later married Brucie’s niece. On her father’s side she is at least the third generation of fiddlers, in turn both her sons (Ross (of Peatbog Faeries) and Ryan Couper) are fiddlers and her daughter plays saxophone and piano. 

Margaret began lessons at school with the late Dr Tom Anderson and then studied with Trevor Hunter. Under Trevor’s guidance she won the first Shetland Young Fiddler of the Year competition in 1982. He also encouraged her to join the Shetland Fiddlers Society to learn more of the older traditional tunes also giving her the title of depute leader.

Upon leaving school, Margaret was approached by Shetland Island Council’s Education Department to teach fiddle in more of the outlying schools. This involved many out of school tutoring groups the most successful of which was the group ‘High Strings’ formed from the timetable at Anderson High. This group toured regularly, released three albums and has seen many of Shetland’s most celebrated fiddlers pass through its ranks.

In April 2013 an email was sent round Shetland fiddle instructors to gauge interest in performing at The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo with a group of fiddlers from the islands. Local instructors, Margaret Robertson and Pauleen Wiseman, met with Clara Wheelan and Steve Walsh of the tattoo production team to find out more about the event. Margaret visited Edinburgh in August that year to experience a day’s rehearsals and the show live. The detail was to have 40 Shetland fiddlers perform each show for a run of 25 shows during the 2014 tattoo.

Postal invitations were sent to almost 200 Shetland fiddlers in the January of 2014 with a response of 97 fiddle players on a rota in order to meet the expectations. The group performed a set of local well-known tunes to meet the theme of ‘Our Home, Friends and Family’. The music and costumes, designed by Shetland Knitwear company Nielanell, conveyed the Mirrie Dancers (Aurora Borealis) in the sky across the world linking Scots scattered worldwide to their homeland. By the end of August that year the new Shetland County group named Hjaltibonhoga (Old Norse for ‘Shetland, my spiritual home’) had performed to almost 250,000 of a live audience with a BBC worldwide viewing public in excess of 1 billion.

7 years on, “Hjaltibonhoga” is now the Edinburgh Tattoo’s resident fiddle band and have performed at Tattoos all over the world.

Margaret is now living in Central Scotland and continues to teach traditional fiddle and piano accompaniment as well as running “Hjaltibonhoga.”

Margaret was inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame in 2018, which she described as a “huge honour”. Organisers Hands Up For Trad said she is an “inspirational figure on the Shetland music scene as a fiddler, pianist, teacher and composer”.

In Shetland we’ll be playing three of Margaret’s new tunes, “Mother’s Love”, “St. Kilda Beach” and “Windy Wellington.” In the meantime, here are two tunes from “The Wilderness Collection” arranged for flute, two violas and bassoon, played by Helen Brew (flute) Katherine Wren and David Martin (violas) and David Hubbard (bassoon). “The Wilderness” is named after Margaret’s Grandad’s house and “Shaela” is named after the group her daughter played in and is a dialect word describing light summer mist.

If you’re interested in learning fiddle from one of Shetland’s finest players or in buying any of Margaret’s tune books, then click here: https://www.facebook.com/margaret.hjalti/

Shoormal Conference Shetland

Sometimes it feels like the places I love most don’t want to let me go. The time I almost missed my plane after a month in Nuuk, Greenland, and then had to wait 13 hours in driving snow in Kangerlussuaq prior to flying to Copenhagen. As I write this, I’m gazing longingly at Fitful Head in Shetland bathed in sunshine whilst I sit at Sumburgh Airport waiting for fog to clear in Glasgow.

It’s been a wonderful and energising week here at the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Shoormal Conference. Somewhat paradoxically as I’m dead tired from a 9 till 9 schedule and my mind is buzzing.

“Shoormal” is the old Norn word for the space between the sea and the shoreline and the conference explored themes looking to the future and the spaces between with regard to the creative economy in rural areas.

Nordic Viola was there to demonstrate our work in schools taking our Orkney workshops as a case study. Working alongside Gemma McGregor, we presented 4 soundscapes from the Far North: the sea crashing on the cliffs at Mykines in the Faroes, an icy walk and an Inuit drum dance from Greenland, and geese from Iceland. As we did in Orkney, we asked our audience to reflect on aspects of the sounds that were familiar to them or resonated with their own experience. The vote from the floor was to improvise a piece based on the geese.

We were then joined by fellow musicians Renzo Spiteri, Morag Currie and Natalie Cairns-Ratter to put together some sounds. We demonstrated how the process encourages students to reflect on sound and the environment, sound production and timbre and structure in music. It is also a process that requires co-operation and empathy between participants as they learn to respond to each other’s sounds and to signal stages of the performance to each other. (Naturally these are skills that our conference volunteers already possess to a high degree, but it is important to recognise the role this plays in an educational setting and the value of music in the curriculum).

We ended the session by playing the results from previous workshops in Orkney and Shetland. We included a recording from the Sumartónar Festival in the Faroes where students from Torshavn Music School joined us in performing a piece composed by students from Anderson High in Lerwick, showing how products of workshops can be used to make connections between areas across the North Atlantic.

The following day Gemma and I gave a performance on flute, viola, piano, small percussion and electronics. Taking our audience on a journey connecting the islands of the North Atlantic through environment, seafaring and legend, we demonstrated the wide palate of sounds to be made from 2 musicians and equipment that can be carried on a standard baggage allowance – assuming access to a piano, that is. The performance included the premiere of Nordic Viola’s latest commission: “Carry His Relics” for flute and viola, a reflection by Gemma McGregor on the St. Magnus Way in Orkney. I also performed Lagarfljót, a piece for viola and electronics inspired by my visit to East Iceland earlier this year.

On Thursday night we could finally relax and enjoy performances by the musicians who’d so generously joined us for our workshop. Morag Currie’s “Idea of North” is a multimedia composition for fiddle, viola and Ableton Live digital workstation with visual imagery and selected prose. Many of the inspirations are similar to those in my project, but whereas my principle musical influence comes from contemporary music infused with traditional music, Morag’s is the other way round. I loved the beautiful imagery in Morag’s screenwork, too. Ableton Live is new software to me and is something I would like to investigate.

My first encounter with Renzo Spiteri and Gaby was actually being tossed around on the Northlink ferry on Monday night. Renzo very courageously relocated to Shetland on Monday at the same time as diving straight in with a performance of “Stillness”, a solo performance of sounds, field recordings from Shetland and electronics. I loved how Renzo found rhythm in natural sound and how he amplified the timbres inherent in these sounds through his improvisation. For me, his real love for these islands was very apparent in his work.

Natalie Cairns-Ratter is also a performer but she was at Shoormal to talk about Music and Communication Skills, particularly relating to children with ASD-Autism Spectrum Disorder. Preparation for our workshop meant I didn’t get to Natalie’s session but I had several conversations with her where her passion for her work and for music provision in Shetland were evident. I really hope I can return to Shetland and work alongside her sometime soon.

This is the first time I’ve attended an interdisciplinary conference and I found it a very stimulating experience. Nordic Viola is inspired by landscape, culture and heritage from the region and it was inspiring to learn how artists from other disciplines have responded to this stimulus. I also learned so much from academics specialising in this area and I’m sure I’ll be tapping into their research for future projects. Real standouts for me were Dr. Andrew Jennings on an exploration of Shetland’s place names and identity and Dr. Antonia Thomas‘ talk on Art and Archaeology. As a trained linguist and translator I share Andrew’s fascination with links to Old Norse. I’d never really reflected on the links between art and archaeology before, so Antonia’s talk left me with much to reflect on.

Finally I must offer a big thank you to UHI for putting such a stimulating programme together. Thanks also to all at Mareel for their professionalism. We were so well looked after and the tech staff had everything covered before we even had chance to ask! I’ve a feeling I’ll be back in Shetland soon – once I’ve managed to leave, that is!





2 Violas – Concert at Mengi, Reykjavik

Charles Ross

Back in September 2016 I met Charles Ross at Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland. I confess to feeling a little nervous. We’d never met, let alone played together, and we were about to do a free improvisation gig! Luckily, we really clicked musically and that concert still ranks as one of the real highlights during my six-month sabbatical.

I’m therefore really excited about performing with Charles again, this time in the capital city on 27th March 8pm at Mengi.  Mengi is an operation created and managed by artists in Reykjavik. It hosts diverse art events, releases music by some of the nation’s most ambitious musicians and operates an art and record store.

We’ll be playing violas, a few percussion instruments and using electronics. Inspired by landscapes and sounds of the Far North, we’ll be performing a mixture of improvised and semi-improvised pieces, featuring Canadian composer Emily Doolittle’s “Social Sounds of Whales at Night” (you can hear it on this link in the version for oboe d’amore), Faroese composer Kristian Blak’s “Drrrunnn” for viola and recorded seabirds as well as original compositions by Katherine and Charles.