Soundwalk with the Bard of the Birds

A year ago, Ruta Vitkauskaite launched her Modern Chants programme online as part of Book Week Scotland. Ruta, Gemma McGregor and Emily Doolittle wrote music for myself and clarinettist Joanna Nicholson inspired by the natural world and Gaelic and Norse culture. The music was spun together with poetry by Dawn Wood. As many of you know, Gemma and Emily are composers I’ve worked with often before with Nordic Viola, so it was exciting to work with them again in a project led by someone else and Ruta, as well as being fronm another northern country, Lithuania, was a composer I’d heard a lot about and was eager to work with.

Following our online performance, Ruta, Dawn and engineer Chris Adams worked together to weave all the components in Modern Chants together to form a stunning Soundwalk, which was premiered in March this year in conjunction with Sound Scotland. In my opinion, the Soundwalk is even more beautiful than the original Modern Chants performance and I’m so excited that, once again, we’ll be part of Book Week Scotland on Sunday 20th November at 11am with a repeat of the Soundwalk with the Bard of the Birds.

The event starts on Zoom with an introduction from The Bard of the Birds. You will then be invited to take a walk (approx. 45 min) around your area. You don’t need to travel to any particular location. On your walk, you will listen to a soundtrack which will give you various instructions to follow and invites you to pay attention to particular details. Guided by the Bard of the Birds you will be asked to collect impressions, thoughts, ideas, colours, shapes, or even objects you find along your walk. When you return from your walk, we will meet you back on Zoom and invite you to share your experiences with us.

The event duration is approx. 90 minutes.

FREE registration and accessibility information:

If you can’t join us for the event itself, it’s still worth signing up for free, as you can download the soundwalk to listen at your leisure. Speaking from my own experience, it’s at least as beautiful taking some time out at home on a dark night and chilling out to the lovely sounds and letting your imagination run wild.

The Soundwalk will be a special experience for me this time as, rather than walking from my own home, I’ll be presenting and walking from Birsay in Orkney, where I’ve already been out and about enjoying the wind, sunshine and very special light you get in the north at this time of year!

RSNO Chamber Series 21st January 14:30

A few people have been asking about what we’ll be playing in Glasgow next Sunday, so here’s a sneaky preview. As well as the music, there will be readings to set the scene and give a flavour of life and culture in the Far North.

The names of the composers may be unfamiliar to you – they were to me 18 months ago, too! They are, however, well-known in Nordic musical circles. We have played to audiences of all ages, so bring your children, too. There’s a huge variety of styles – something for everybody! Still not sure, well here’s what our Dunblane audience had to say in October:

“What a journey it was, both literary and musically. You conveyed your wonder and fascination with the Nordic lands in such an absorbing way. I think the whole audience was hooked!”

“Loved it – well done! I especially loved Lillie’s piece.” “Lovely concert. Fab playing and some really interesting music. We really enjoyed it and it was good to have such a good turnout.” “Well done for a cracking concert.”

We begin in the Faroes with a traditional hymn tune and listen as the islands move through spring and into summer with Kári Baek’s Vár Trio and Kristian Blak’s remarkable piece for seabirds and viola, Drrrunnn.

Winter hits Shetland in Lillie Harris’ depiction of a raging storm, AND, followed by a moonlit night imagined by Adrian Vernon Fish in Uyeasound Nocturne. Summer returns to the Northern Isles in contemporary Shetland fiddler Margaret Robertson’s tunes Wilderness and Shaela and we finish the first half with Peter Maxwell Davies’ ever-popular Farewell to Stromness.

After the interval we travel to the Far North with a set of Icelandic folk songs arranged by Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson. The two sides of the dark months are depicted in my own Winter Melancholy and in the wonderful, dancelike Prelude from Poul Ruder’s Autumn Collection.

Our concert ends in Greenland with Arnannguaq Gerstrøm’s playful description of winter, Ukioq, which brings back many wonderful memories for me of being out in the snow in Greenland in February as the days rapidly lengthened. This is followed by an improvised reflection on a traditional Inuit tune. The journey comes full circle with a set of traditional tunes about Greenland from Shetland, highlighting the common seafaring heritage of the islands of the North.


Winter days

I’ve been very good at going out whatever the weather and I might manage a stroll yet, but so far I’m resisting the lure of wind and rain(!)  and I’m researching some readings for our concert in Merstham, Surrey.

Here’s a beautiful poem in the Shetland dialect by Jack Renwick which perfectly describes the waters between the islands of Unst and Yell when I travelled to Sumburgh to pick Lillie. You can read this and find out more about Shetland’s distinctive dialect here.


Winter Comes In – Jack Renwick. The onset of winter at Bluemull Sound.

Winter Comes In

Winter Comes InGrey dawn brakkin ower troubled watters,
Da Soond laek a burn wi da rip o da tide;
Da Mull, black an grim, ida first o da daylicht
Wi da sea brakkin white on his nortmast side.

Yowes kruggin closs ida lee o a daek-end,
Creepin frae a chill at bites ta da bon;
Solan an scarf aa wirkin inshore,
A sign at da best o da wadder is don.

Hail sheetin doon wi a Nort wind ahint it,
Blottin oot laand an sea frae da scene,
An iron coortin closin ower aa thing:
Winter has come ta da islands ageen.