William Sweeney: Luminate: From the Islands [download]
for voice and piano, composed 2013
Computer typeset score (84p) saved as pdf for immediate download.
CD available from Delphian Records.
Luminate: From the Islands was commissioned by Live Music Now Scotland with funding from Luminate: Scotland’s creative ageing festival.
During the summer of 2013, traditional musicians Gary Innes and Jennifer Port performed a series of concerts at lunch clubs, sheltered housing and care homes around the Inner Hebridean Islands of Mull, Iona, Skye, Tiree and Islay. They also engaged their audiences in conversation, triggering memories of their upbringing on the islands, and reflections on how life was lived then and now. Others spoke of their journey towards the islands: sometimes of holidays and vital personal attachments made, and of the deep impact of the landscape. Many things united both the incomers and the locally born and bred: the sense of community and shared responsibility for the wellbeing of others and the sense that the land and seas around them were a privilege to use, to work with and to enjoy, but that each generation has the obligation to care for the environment and to pass that duty on to the next.
Each of the set of pieces inspired by these encounters has the name of one of the islands, and tries to bring out at least one aspect of its landscape or atmosphere, but many of the inspirations are common: for example, many from different places spoke of long walks to and from school, but I have located this on Tiree and the sea, a constant presence for all and a profession for many, is represented from different perspectives in “Islay” and “Mull”.
The songs may be sung individually, collectively in any order, or scattered throughout a programme. There are ‘high’ and ‘low’ versions, roughly corresponding to Soprano/Tenor and Mezzo/Baritone, but if the tessitura fits, ‘high’ voices may choose the ’low’ version of a particular number, and vice versa, if they feel that this offers useful colours.
The word setting , particularly in the subdivision of Gaelic syllables, is a response to the possibilities of different rhythmic interpretations (I am indebted to Anne Lorne Gillies, in the introduction to her “Songs of Gaelic Scotland’, for the suggestion that a number of solutions are possible in many cases), but those chosen here may not suit advocates of a particular local diction, in which case they should respond creatively – but taking care not to smooth out completely that rhythmic asymmetry which is one of the joys of the gaelic idiom.
There are two songs here: the first was made and sung to Gary and me by Peter, for many years the postie around Portnahaven – but I’ve added some mirk and stormcloud to the introduction and to some verses: Islay is bonnie, but the rain is no stranger. The other song, ‘Ailein Dhuinn’ remembers the moment when a tired and withdrawn lady in Bowmore awoke to the melody and sang a number of verses, stronger and stronger – pitch and word perfect. (The rhythms are based on the version of this song in ALG, above).
The rolling landscape of the Mull hills and mountains often seems to me like a seascape frozen in greens, browns and greys. The song, ‘Òran Loch Sloy’, commemorates the epic round-the-world journeys undertaken by the many Hebridean sailors who manned the great masted merchantmen, but always carrying their home within them and returning there after years in the southern oceans. The version here is inspired by that in Margaret Fay Shaw’s “Folksongs and Folklore of South Uist”, but I have added a new metric interpretation and made a version of the text in English to fit the tunes.
The dramatic and imposing landscape of Skye is dear to the heart of the Sgianach, but has also been the initial attraction for the many incomers who have stayed on to enrich its communities. The piece here is, in the contemporary term, a ‘mash-up’, or collision of Walter Scott’s romantic vision of highland culture, ‘Pibroch of Donuil Dhu, with an actual piobaireachd: MacLeod of Raasay’s Salute. Both are amended to fit the metre, dramatic shape and instrumentation. As well as being a grand tune, the Salute invokes Raasay, which has the best views of Skye……
Many of the older islanders remember both the walks (sometimes of hours) to school and the rhythmical labours of milking or pumping water which often preceded them. To the modern schoolchild this might seem a gloomy prospect, but I imagined a group of children of various ages walking to school from one of the townships on Tiree under a bright and never-ending sky. Would they have sung? And played games? Played tricks on one another? This piece is based on the clapping-song ‘An ràcan a bh’ againne’ – “the Drake that we used to have” and tries to emulate the high spirits of the young scholars.!
The special light and atmosphere of Iona is here represented by ‘Tàladh Ar Slànair’ ‘Lullaby for the Saviour’, the harmonies suggest the mysterious light and the repetitive rhythms may suggest the child being rocked to sleep, or the chiming of bells, or the waves of the surrounding sea. (The core material of this piece and of ‘Tiree’ is suggested by the versions in MFS).
Luminate: From the Islands was premiered as part of Luminate by Live Music Now soprano and piano duos Marie Claire Breen/Chris Baxter and Emma Versteeg/Maryam Sherhan at the following venues: Islay – Donald Caskie Square sheltered housing complex; Islay Reminiscence Project; Gortanvogie Home; Skye – An Acarsaid care home; Hilton care home; Tigh Na Drochaid day care centre; Tiree – Tiree Lunch Club; Tigh a Ruda care home; Mull – Macdougall Place sheltered housing; Glen Iosal sheltered housing; Mull Musical Minds project and the Aros Hall Lunch Club.
Live Music Now Scotland would like to acknowledge the invaluable support of LMN alumnus, musician and broadcaster, Mary Ann Kennedy for assisting the musicians with the Gaelic pronunciation in these songs.