Call for University of the Highlands and Islands applied music students to compose for community land owners
Music students at the University of the Highlands and Islands, will shortly be set an unusual piece of course work – to compose a piece of music which celebrates the communities which have taken back control of their local land and assets.
As they work on their anthem of local empowerment, they can draw on centuries of human history.
It has been written that ever since the ancient pre-Christian Celtic legend had Deirdre of the Sorrows lamenting her departure from Glen Etive, Scotland’s music, poetry and prose have explored her people’s sense of place.
From the Gaelic songs of those lamenting their eviction and exile, to the creative genius of Robert Burns; from the folk songs and bothy ballads to Grassick Gibbon’s Sunset Song, the focus has been on our relationship with the land and landscape closest to us.
The body which symbolises the radical land reform that heralded local communities taking control of their land and assets across Scotland, recognises this.
Community Land Scotland (CLS) is now seeking music for this movement towards local control. It is to mark the 10th anniversary of its founding, as the representative organisation for community buyouts from Gigha to Comrie and Knoydart to Peebles, as well as into the cities. They cover over 560,000 acres of land and are home to tens of thousands of people.
The music project is being pursued in a unique partnership with the University of the Highlands and Islands. The university already has a presence in many communities, including some of the most remote human outposts in the land.
It will be the 50 plus students on its BA (Hons) applied music course, who will be asked initially to take up CLS’s composition challenge.
Students on the BA (Hons) Creative Writing in the Highlands and Islands have also been invited to contribute their response with words which may be integrated into the final piece.
One of the university’s strengths is its established approach and use of blended learning to deliver programmes, which combines video conferencing, online technologies, real time support from lecturers and local staff with some face to face teaching.
Its partnership of colleges and research institutes covers the largest geographical areas of any campus-based university or college in the UK with learning centres from Scalloway in Shetland to Campbeltown in Kintyre.
It has been delivering virtual creative residencies since 2014 – and is now recognised for pioneering this approach to offer students whether they are from the remotest communities or anywhere in the world an opportunity to take part.
Therefore, despite the current restrictions in place at this time due to the coronavirus pandemic, students can still collaborate as usual in one such residency in September. This is when they will work to compose a piece across a range of genres (traditional, classical, modern), that meets the CLS challenge.
CLS will become directly involved in a second residency that will be held in November 2020. The overall aspiration is for a piece that is easily accessible and capable of performance by a range of instruments and group sizes. CLS will use it for events and videos.
CLS chair Ailsa Raeburn said “The story of Scotland’s land has been marked by dispossession, eviction and exploitation down the centuries. For generations many who lived and worked on the land had little or no power over their lives. Their sad stories were often told in music and songs that remain with us today and are a powerful element of Scotland’s culture.
“In the last three decades the tide started to turn, as governments began to recognise that local communities should be given the power to start to recreate their own stories and tell new ones. Giving communities power through land ownership also gave them the trust and confidence to energise local life, transforming the economic and social future of these communities.
“Wherever communities have bought their local land and assets such as buildings, there has been a determination to address chronic local problems.
“Many had a long and difficult fight to take control, so they didn’t let the grass grow under them. Their ambition just grew, as did local pride and identity. And when events turned against them, as in the pandemic, they looked after the vulnerable in their midst. The opportunity now to write new music and songs, and tell these new stories, is one that can’t be missed.”
Anna-Wendy Stevenson, Programme Leader for University of the Highlands and Islands BA (Hons) applied music course is equally enthusiastic:
“We are living in a time where, never has community been so important. The value of community for collaboration and learning underpins the curriculum design and delivery of the applied music degree course and so we are very excited to be working with CLS on this commission.”
“This project will provide depth and dynamic to our online creative practice environment and facilitate deeper consideration around the idea and value of community, identity and empowerment.”
Ailsa Raeburn agrees: “Twenty first century Scotland has some very positive stories to tell in how its communities are at the forefront of making decisions about things that matter to them.
“Working with the music students at UHI is a great way of putting these new stories to music and to create something that we hope will properly reflect today’s modern culture, as those songs of old represented the stories of those dispossessed and lost from their land.”
The musical quest will complement other CLS cultural projects, including the appointment of artists in residence at Galson on Lewis and Abriachan in the hills above Loch Ness. They are to be working around the theme of radical land reform. These will all be showcased at an event planned in Edinburgh in Spring 2021.