Displacement, diaspora and Dumfries and Galloway’s constantly changing communities are the themes for a ground-breaking song project by Moniaive’s Cairn Chorus
When choir director and music teacher Kate Howard lived in Devon, she worked with a choir called Global Harmony who were commissioned to produce a song cycle for the Dart River.
When she moved back to Scotland three years ago, she was part of the Moniaive Festival Village team that put a bid in for a Creative Places Award.
They won the bid and the beginnings of a song cycle project for the Glencairn Valley was born and will culminate in its world premiere performance at St Ninian’s Parish Church, Moniaive, on Saturday, 27 May, commissioned by the Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival.
Kate said: “The theme is our connection to the landscape of Dumfries and Galloway and its ever-changing communities: what our landscape means to the community, what community means to us and how changes within a rural community affect us. This is reflected on the present with people coming into our area from war-torn countries as well on the past with the Lowland Clearances.
“In Scotland in the 18th and 19th centuries similar movements of people were propelled by both Lowland and Highland Clearances when thousands of Scots were evicted from their land and homes and whole communities were forced to emigrate, many to the USA and Canada.
“Since rehearsals began, I have been moved and also excited about the way the song cycle is coming together. It’s a really fascinating project.”
Last year, Kate put out a call for composers to join the project.
“I was approached by 10 different people,” she said, “all of whom happened to be women. Some were established composers, some completely new to composing, but all of them were local and all of them had something unique to say.
“One of the project’s contributors, Helen Chadwick, was interested in Andy Goldsworthy and the story behind his Striding Arches. She was inspired by his experience of taking a piece of Locharbriggs sandstone to the USA, something that was done centuries ago and was used as the building material around one of the most iconic landmarks in America: the steps up to the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour.”
The project involves the talents of Galloway song-writer Ali Burns; Kate Thomas; Lucy Harper; Megan Henderson; Melanie Thorne; Wendy Stewart and Helen Chadwick. Local musician and composer Stuart MacPherson has provided instrumentalist pieces to complement the project and will play these alongside Gavin Marwick on fiddle, Ruth Morris on Nyckelharpa and Wendy Stewart, harp. The song cycle will include bell ringers and an art installation in the village by Florencia García Chafuén.
“A lot of the music is quite challenging,” Kate said, “and one of the songs is in Arabic. This helps to illustrate the important connection with the people who were cleared from Scotland during the Lowland Clearances and those who are currently being forced to leave their homes in the Middle East.”
After its premiere in Moniaive, and as part of the Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival, the Cairn Valley Song Cycle will be performed in a special concert with the Cairn Chorus (which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year) and the Scottish Ensemble. The event takes place on Saturday, 3 June in Easterbrook Hall, Dumfries.
Kate added: “The Song Cycle has been an incredible two-year process which has involved a ridiculous amount of work, endless emails and phone conversations. However, what has emerged will be a long-lasting legacy of work which we can build on and add to over the years to come.”
Tickets for both concerts from the Midsteeple Box Office, Dumfries, tel 01387 243383. For further information, visit www.dgartsfestival.org.uk