“Aud”, supported by the PRS Foundation Women Make Music programme, will be receiving its live premiere. Written by Linda Buckley during lockdown, “Aud”, in telling the tale of the 9th Century heroine of the Sagas, also reflects on the emotions evoked by travel; the uncertainties, the sense of adventure the feeling, perhaps, of leaving something behind.
New pieces for us in this programme are Orcadian Gemma McGregor’s “Our Lady of Sorrows and Danger”, based on a poem by Ron Ferguson and Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen’s “Sea of Peace.”
Traditional voices from established and new musicians from Shetland depict Shetland’s seascapes and its people. Margaret Robertson’s tender air to mothers everywhere opens the programme. Young people are central to our work and we’re delighted to welcome accordionist Victoria Byrne-McCombie, who was one of the competition winners in our international Seastories Competition with her winning tunes. Victoria will be introduced by10-year-old Isla Jamieson’s poem “You are beautiful, Shetland” which I came across online last year.
Much older, traditional stories told in Icelandic folk melodies end our programme.
If you would like to have a wee taster of our programme, I’ve put together a short playlist on Soundcloud for you.
During the week I’m also looking forward to an online workshop with pupils from Anderson High School on a Seastories theme. Last time I worked with the school, we developed one of Nordic Viola’s most popular pieces, “Mjørkaflókar”, so I’m excited to see what we can produce this time!
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.
“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
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
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
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!
Last November I travelled to Orkney with Nordic Viola to give a concert with Anne Bünemann, Peter Hunt and local composer Gemma McGregor. I spent the week working with Gemma, giving workshops in local schools and learning about Orkney and its music.
One of my stated aims was to ultimately commission a piece from Gemma and this came to fruition last weekend when I returned to Orkney to rehearse the new piece for viola and flute called “Carry His Relics” which we will be performing for the first time in Shetland on Thursday 19th October at Mareel in Lerwick as part of the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Shoormal Conference which they are running in conjunction with Shetland Arts.
Gemma describes her piece as follows:
‘Carry His Relics’ describes the
journey mentioned at the end of the Orkneyinga Saga when the followers of St
Magnus carried his remains from Christkirk, Birsay, along the coast to the
capital town of Kirkjuvagr. St Magnus is the patron saint of Orkney. He was
murdered on 16th April, 1117. Twenty years after Magnus’ death, a farmer called
Gunni, from the Orkney island of Westray, reported that Magnus had appeared to
him in a dream and instructed him to tell Bishop William that he wanted his
relics moved. Gunni reported his dream and permission was granted. After the
procession along the coast of Orkney, Magnus’ remains were interred at St
Olaf’s Kirk, although they were later moved to St Magnus Cathedral. Many
miracles had been reported by those who had prayed to St Magnus for help. The
joyful processional melodies make reference to both Magnus’ Viking culture and
his Christian beliefs by using traditional Orcadian
and Norwegian style
music and by quoting from 12th century plainchants that may have been sung by
the followers of Magnus. The fifty-five mile long route taken by the pilgrims
subsequently became a devotional walk but fell out of use centuries ago. The St
Magnus Way was cleared and reopened in 2017 to mark the 900th anniversary of
the martyrdom of St Magnus.