Turning on the words

Reflecting on the first performances of our new suites for soprano and clarinet, one of the pleasurable aspects of introducing them was to be able to give the titles, not only of the two suites, but of the individual poems.  It felt a little like finally being able to name a new child (or a pet), having referred only to the ‘new arrival’.  So, here are our new suites:


Three Pieces for Soprano and Clarinet

Beautiful Feathered Tyrant ~ Duologue ~ Past Sula Sgeir

Composer Rebecca Rowe with poetry by Jane McKie and Stewart Sanderson



Ceol Na ~ Mhairi Du ~ Contrary Bird

Composer Stuart Murray Mitchell with poetry by Stewart Sanderson and Jane McKie


One of the joys of the project so far has been speaking to the poets and composers about what inspired them when studying the text and melody of the original song, and where they thought that might take them on their own creative journeys.  Jane McKie has summed up her thoughts with illustrations from her poems:

“The great black-backed gull, that leviathan among gulls, is sometimes curious, sometimes bullying, using its strength, its ‘muscle’ to to attack the eggs and fledglings of other birds. There is something of that dynamic (being drawn to, being repulsed by) in my response to ‘Turn Ye to Me’ that is entitled ‘Beautiful Feathered Tyrant’; the gull is ‘slicked into the totemic’, and the narrator of the poem is compelled by the apex predator, perhaps even seduced by the bird’s perceived power:

And when you roll the skulls of lesser birds

in your white-ringed eyes, I can’t look away.

But, they are also scavengers, picking ‘rainbow fragments’ from dumps, ‘packets smacking of chips, / vinegar, candied burnt-tyre viscera—’. They take their food wherever they can find it.

The black-backed gull in my first poem, ‘Contrary Bird’, which is a more direct take on ‘Turn Ye to Me’, is by contrast a more spiritual creature all together. Despite not being ascribed priestly qualities, the bird holds true to her instincts, instincts which can transcend the physical realm:

Turn ye to me, yowls the sea, turn to me.

The bird declines, holding true to her gyre,

believing in the upward force that keeps

her safe – one day it is lift; the next, grace.

There is bleakness here: the poem features the voice of oblivion, so it is pretty bleak really!  But there also hope, and in this poem, which functions as a counterpoint to its companion, determination rather than rapacity is embodied by the creature living instinctively at the margins of our islands.”


Of course, it is hard to read those extracts now without hearing them in the rhythms of the music to which they have been so expressively set.

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