New Music for the GMB Centenary

Words into Music: Continuity and Change was a year-long collaboration between the GMB Fellowship and Orkney Camerata to mark the centenary of the birth of George Mackay Brown. New and established writers responded in prose and poetry to the work of the internationally renowned author, and 18 composers wrote pieces inspired by this new writing. Eleven pieces were selected to be premiered by Orkney Camerata in St Magnus Cathedral in 2021-22.

To read more about the writing part of the project and to read all 51 of the poems and prose works submitted, go to:

Words into Music . . . Working with Words

In December 2021, in a Christmas concert with the Winter Choir, Orkney Camerata played ‘Midwinter Sea’ by Andrew Woodward, a setting of a poem by Orkney writer Lorraine Bruce.

In March 2022, a concert included two further compositions written for the string players of Camerata: ‘New Year Sunrise’, a setting by Laurence Rugg of a poem by Donald Murray and ‘The Seven Days of April’ by the young composer Alexander McNamee inspired by a poem by Piers Cain.

In May 2022, Camerata presented an entire concert of new music – nine chamber pieces written for a variety of small ensembles from Camerata.

You can hear all eleven pieces below. To read the poem which inspired each work, click on its title near the beginning of the programme note.

The Recordings

ANDREW WOODWARD

Andrew Woodward studied music at university in the 1980s, where his main interest was playing the clarinet. His musical highlight was making the shortlist of the Radio 3 Carol Competition in 2018. He now works as a freelance computer programmer, after eight years as a chef in the 1990s. He moved to Orkney in 2016.

Midwinter Sea

“My piece is a setting of ‘Midwinter Sea’ by Lorraine Bruce. I like her image of the sea at midwinter – quiet and dark, cold and brooding – though the work that inspired her (‘The Sea: Four Elegies’ from Winterfold) is very bleak indeed. In the same way that midwinter brings with it the prospect of warmer, longer days, so Lorraine’s poem ends in an optimistic way, which I’ve tried to reflect in the music by letting it end in the major key – ‘waiting for spring and sea pinks’.” – Andrew Woodward

Andrew Woodward, Midwinter Sea
Words from the poem ‘Midwinter Sea’ by Lorraine Bruce
Recorded live at a concert given by Orkney Camerata in St Magnus Cathedral, 23 May 2022
from George Mackay Brown Fellowship on Vimeo

Paul Rendall tenor, Yvonne Gray oboe, Elizabeth Sullivan violin, Sandy Dennison viola, Valerie Webster cello

LAURENCE RUGG

For many years Laurence worked with children, directing various musical projects and writing songs. He is a keen cellist, pianist and conductor and lives in Hull, a town famous for its fleet of trawlers. In one of his poems George Mackay Brown refers to them as a ‘rusting flock’. For some fifteen years Laurence has been a regular visitor to Orkney, working with Hoy Sound, a small community choir on Hoy. He has composed many songs for them, setting poems by George and also Yvonne Gray. A few years ago some of them formed part of a concert with Orkney Camerata given in Hoy Kirk and St Magnus Cathedral. Laurence regards his visits to Orkney as an important part of his life both musically and socially.​​

New Year Sunrise

Donald Murray’s words [in ‘New Year Sunrise’] really stood out to me for their evocative qualities, reflecting Orkney so well – the short dark winter days and the growing ones which the new year triggers. The music I have written does not set the words melodically but rather they are intoned within the texture of a string orchestra. In that way I see the music reflecting and expressing the words in much the same way as they do in many 16th century madrigals.” – Laurence Rugg

Click title to hear the audio recording of NEW YEAR SUNRISE

Laurence Rugg, New Year Sunrise
Words from the poem ‘New Year Sunrise’ by Donald Murray
Recorded live at a concert given by Orkney Camerata in St Magnus Cathedral, 13 March 2022
Paul Rendall tenor

ALEXANDER MCNAMEE

Alexander McNamee has loved exploring harmony and improvising from an early age. He enjoys a range of music from Baroque to Jazz to Contemporary R&B. He released two albums, recorded at home in Edinburgh, during the lockdowns. He plays piano, organ and double bass, but composing is his passion. Currently a music scholar in S5 at George Watson’s College, he hopes to study composition when he leaves school.

The Seven Days of April

‘The Seven Days of April’ [by Piers Cain] resonated with me through its vividly described scenery. There are seven short sections – one for each day. In Day 1, the main theme suggests the horn of a ship on a calm sea. The key shifts for a change of weather in Day 2, with a cello trill for the turbine. Day 3 is bright, with sparkly violins over rising chords. In Day 4, the greyness falling softly is conveyed in descending chords. A modulation to a brighter key reflects both the sunrise and the sense of anticipation in Day 5. The cello represents the humming ferry in Day 6. For Day 7, soft chords in B major reflect the rising sun ‘flooding the sea’, and a pizzicato bass line suggests the seaman’s footsteps. The conclusion is tranquil but with a sense of a town ‘biding its time’.” – Alexander McNamee

Click title to hear the audio recording of THE SEVEN DAYS OF APRIL

Alexander McNamee, The Seven Days of April
Words from the poem ‘The Seven Days of April’ by Donald Murray
Recorded live at a concert given by Orkney Camerata in St Magnus Cathedral, 13 March 2022


KATHIE TOUIN 

Kathie Touin is a Californian singer/songwriter living in Orkney. She has released three CDs of original songs and another of classical piano music. Kathie teaches piano from her home studio where she also writes and records music. ‘Raven: Black on Blue’ is her first piece composed for strings. 

Raven: Black on Blue

“‘Raven: Black on Blue’ [inspired by ‘Raven’ by Ellen Forkin] is a short piece written for string trio. I found Ellen’s story to be dark and unsettling with powerful imagery suggesting the mood and pace of the music. The theme (G-F-Bb) is created from the initials of George Mackay Brown’s name, counting up from A, using the musical alphabet to substitute an F for the M. The piece expresses the rise and fall of the emotions of the crew lost at sea, so hopeful when they think they spot an island, and then despairing when they realise it is an illusion and the voyage must continue.” – Kathie Touin 

Kathie Touin, Raven: Black on Blue
Inspired by the prose poem ‘Raven’ by Ellen Forkin
Recorded live at a concert given by Orkney Camerata in St Magnus Cathedral, 23 May 2022
from George Mackay Brown Fellowship on Vimeo

Janet Yeung violin, Lynn Procter viola, Catherine Browne cello

SARAH CATTLEY

Sarah Cattley studied music at Cambridge. Her work has been performed across the UK and broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and Resonance FM. Her most recent commission is a Vaughan Williams memorial choral piece for Stainer and Bell. She also writes poetry to be set by composer Janet Wheeler. 

Whale by Whale by Whale

“This piece takes as its inspiration Jane McKie’s beautiful poem of the same name. The three stanzas are mirrored in three musical sections. The piece opens in an introductory fashion as we meet the ‘three islands rising from the choppy blue’ which turn out to be three whales, loosely represented by the three block chords, Db major, F major and Ab major. The middle section is more active to replicate the ‘rise and roll’ of whales hunting. The third section harks back to the first as a sort of remembrance as the whales depart – the ‘three islands slip, invisibly. And in their place, a longing’.” – Sarah Cattley

Sarah Cattley, Whale by Whale by Whale
Inspired by the poem ‘Whale by Whale by Whale’ by Jane McKie
Recorded live at a concert given by Orkney Camerata in St Magnus Cathedral, 23 May 2022
from George Mackay Brown Fellowship on Vimeo

Kate Smith bassoon, Elizabeth Sullivan violin, Mari Bøe viola, Catherine Browne cello

RONALD MACNIVEN

Ronald MacNiven is one of Scotland’s most versatile musicians. Awards in the UK and abroad have been followed up by performances at contemporary music festivals including Huddersfield and Aberdeen. Interests outside music include detective fiction, philately and Sudoku. 

February Moon 

“‘February Moon’ is a short piece for a quartet of clarinet, violin, viola and cello. The starting point is a poem by Lorraine Bruce, ‘The Queen is Dead, Long Live the Queen’, which in turn was inspired by the great Orcadian poet George Mackay Brown. The title is drawn from Bruce’s first stanza: ‘A ripe February moon, wearing a rainbow crown / bathes in the soft buds washing over her pale features.’ Words from Lorraine’s poem are sprinkled throughout as musical directions, including ‘pale’, ‘like cut steel’, ‘glitter’, ‘brightly’, ‘darkening’. Alongside the instrumentation, the subject matter reminded me of Arnold Schoenberg’s ‘Pierrot Lunaire’ and a little of that piece’s atmosphere permeates my work.” – Ronald MacNiven

Ronald MacNiven, February Moon
Inspired by the poem ‘The Queen is Dead, Long Live the Queen’ by Lorraine Bruce
Recorded live at a concert given by Orkney Camerata in St Magnus Cathedral, 23 May 2022
From George Mackay Brown Fellowship on Vimeo

Michael Butler clarinet, Holly Tyson violin, Sandy Dennison viola, Lilian Kelly cello

IAN MURRAY

Ian Murray studied music at King’s College, London and the University of Hong Kong, then as a postgraduate with Simon Holt, Jonathan Cole and Gilbert Nuono at the Royal College of Music. His compositions are often influenced by the natural world as well as the music of the ancient past. 

Net 

“This piece is a musical setting of Larissa Reid’s poem ‘Net’, scored for trumpet in Bb, tenor voice, violin, viola and cello. I have attempted to stretch the vivid imagery of the poem into a contemplative space.” – Ian Murray 

Ian Murray, Net
Words from the poem ‘Net’ by Larissa Reid
Recorded live at a concert given by Orkney Camerata in St Magnus Cathedral, 23 May 2022.
From George Mackay Brown Fellowship on Vimeo

Paul Rendall tenor, Brian Jones trumpet, Lesley Macleod violin, Lynn Procter viola, Valerie Webster cello

ERIN THOMSON

Erin Thomson is a Scottish composer from Glasgow. She has recently graduated from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, earning a first-class honours degree with an endorsement of Music Education with Distinction. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Music at RCS. 

The Rising Tides 

“Inspired by the closing lines of Penni Brown’s poem [‘The Rising Tides’], the work echoes the serious concern of the author’s thought-provoking words, ‘The Storm that once revealed the village foreshadows our fate, taunts our privilege.’ It takes inspiration from the percussive and harmonic aspects of a track from the album Out of the Stones: Music inspired by the Archaeology and History of Orkney, and embraces ecological aspects of the sea through music. GMB referred to the sea as a ‘widow-maker’, which influenced Penni Brown to reflect on the power the sea holds over Orkney as climate change causes sea levels to rise. The quartet builds a sound world that reflects the themes present in these inspirational words.” – Erin Thomson

Erin Thomson, The Rising Tides
Inspired by the poem ‘The Rising Tides’ by Penni Brown
Recorded live at a concert given by Orkney Camerata in St Magnus Cathedral, 23 May 2022
From George Mackay Brown Fellowship on Vimeo

Hilary Mason, violin Lesley Macleod violin, Mari Bøe viola, Catherine Browne cello

HUGH PYPER

Hugh Paper is a retired university professor now living in Orkney. Born in Edinburgh, he taught biology in schools before studying Divinity and then lecturing in Biblical Studies in Leeds and Sheffield. An amateur in music, he is fascinated by the art of song writing.

Playing in Time 

Áine King’s ‘Playing in Time’ uses variation within repetition with apparent simplicity and deep subtlety. My setting imitates this, repeating, augmenting and inverting an ever-present motif. Fiddle music and bird-calls echo in the song as it cycles through joys and sorrows in the life of a house and its inhabitants.” – Hugh Pyper

Hugh Pyper, Playing in Time
Words from the poem ‘Playing in Time’ by Áine King
Recorded live at a concert given by Orkney Camerata in St Magnus Cathedral, 23 May 2022
From George Mackay Brown Fellowship on Vimeo

Hannah Bown soprano, Janet Yeung violin, Valerie Webster cello

PETER WALTON

Peter Walton works in London as a composer and guitarist. His classical compositions have been played by Septura, Fenella Humphries, Takane Funatsu and the Docklands Sinfonietta. He is currently part of the Britten Sinfonia Opus 1 composers’ scheme and is mentored by Sally Beamish OBE.

In Time 

“I was immediately drawn to the rich imagery, atmosphere and musical references in Áine King’s poem, ‘Playing in Time’. I was inspired by the description of the major events in life being celebrated by the community; the violin as witness and celebrant to these communal acts of coming together. The four short movements mirror the structure of the poem: marriage, birth, death and a new beginning. In the first movement the newlyweds are welcomed into their wedding celebration. The second movement is a lullaby for a new-born baby. The third movement reflects on a solemn gathering for a departed loved one and in the final movement my thoughts are of a couple moving on to the next chapter of their journey.” – Peter Walton

Peter Walton, In Time
Inspired by the poem ‘Playing in Time’ by Áine King
Recorded live at a concert given by Orkney Camerata in St Magnus Cathedral, 23 May 2022
From George Mackay Brown Fellowship on Vimeo

Elizabeth Sullivan violin, Lilian Kelly cello

KAY ROWAN

Kay Rowan is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, musician, songwriter and actor currently based in South London. She graduated from Royal Holloway University in 2018. Her work draws on influences from traditional folk music to American minimalism and she has written music extensively for the concert hall, stage and screen. She says, ‘I grew up listening to and enjoying folk music long before I trained as a classical composer. I loved the story-telling aspect of it, and how it played with time; real people’s voices and memories captured and sent, through time, to me listening to it’.

Play, in Time 

“With this piece [Playing in Time’ by Áine King], I really wanted to capture the music that I love, along with the spirit of the poem. The image that struck me was of the house, a constant in time, through which, internally and contextually, time is passing. Likewise, in this piece, a single melody is passed around and shared in time, sometimes losing all semblance of the original but always finding new meanings in its surroundings. Much like music, we don’t ‘own’ the house mentioned in the poem; we are merely custodians for a time, and when our connection to it ends, we move on and the house remains to welcome new guests and new stories.” – Kay Rowan 

Kay Rowan, Play, in Time
Inspired by the poem ‘Playing in Time’ by Áine King
Recorded live at a concert given by Orkney Camerata in St Magnus Cathedral, 23 May 2022
From George Mackay Brown Fellowship on Vimeo

Michael Butler clarinet, Holly Tyson violin, Hilary Mason violin, Sandy Dennison viola, Lilian Kelly cello

Writer Biographies

PENNI BROWN 

Penni Brown lives in Edinburgh but grew up in Stromness and remembers George Mackay Brown always nodded his chin to greet her when he passed in the street. She once interviewed him for her school magazine. Originally a lawyer, she has only recently started writing poetry. 

LORRAINE BRUCE 

Lorraine Bruce is an artist, born and brought up in Holm, now living in Kirkwall. She started writing two years ago when she joined the writing groups Orkney Voices and Open Book. ‘I find my art and writing complement one another,’ she says. And it was in the writing groups that she became interested in George Mackay Brown’s work. 

ELLEN FORKIN 

Ellen Forkin lives in Orkney with her menagerie of animals and semi-wild rook. She discovered George Mackay Brown’s work upon moving to the islands and is inspired by the rhythm of his words and captured time and place.

ÁINE KING 

Áine King is a writer and dramatist living in Orkney. Her background is London-Irish, and the musicality and rhythms in peoples’ different ways of speaking have always fascinated her. This, she says, is one of the many reasons why she is drawn to GMB’s work. 

JANE MCKIE 

Jane McKie has several poetry publications, some resulting from collaborations with artists. Morocco Rococo, from Cinnamon Press, won the Sundial/SAC award for best first book of 2007. Her most recent collection is Quiet Woman, Stay (Cinnamon Press, 2020). She is a member of the Edinburgh-based Shore Poets, and writes with the poetry collective 12. 

LARISSA REID 

Larissa Reid is a freelance science writer. She lives on Scotland’s east coast and has published poetry and prose regularly since 2016. She first met George Mackay Brown’s words whilst studying Scottish Literature at Aberdeen University, and his stories and poems have woven their way throughout her life ever since.

Featured image: photo by Glenys Hughes

Members of Orkney Camerata and some of the composers, writers and readers
who took part in the concert on 23 May 2022 in St Magnus Cathedral.

The GMB Fellowship and Orkney Camerata would like to thank all the writers and composers who took part in this project. We hope that the works performed in concerts in 2021-22 and featured here will have further performances, and that those not selected for performance in 2021-22 as part of the Words into Music collaboration will, in future, be performed too.

Where now . . . ?

To read more about the new writing part of the project and to read all 51 of the poems and prose works submitted, go to:

Words into Music . . . Working with Words

Or you can use the tabs at the top of the page to find out about other work by the George Mackay Brown Fellowship.

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