The First Elemental new work

The combination of the sound of the expressive clarinet and the soprano voice is one which has already offered composers and performers the opportunity to create and explore interesting and attractive repertoire.  In a sympathetic acoustic, the two instruments soar and float, producing a unique sound world.

As two Scottish musicians we enjoy performing arrangements of traditional songs in any programme we present, and in 2015, undertook an exciting new project which has became a core element of many of our performances.  We were keen to explore the potential which the treasury of traditional song could offer to create something new and exciting.  We were drawn to one song in particular, Turn Ye to Me, the words of which were written by John Wilson, under his pseudonym of Christopher North, in the early nineteenth century.  A lilting melody, along with words conjuring up the wildness of the sea and its influence on the lives of both birds and humankind, gave us the kernel of the idea which  developed into a collaborative project with two composers and two poets, who put their skills to work to create two suites for us (three pieces in each). Each suite includes music drawn from the melody and text of Turn Ye to Me, and  settings of new poetry, especially written for the project, inspired by images in the words of the original song.

The suites can now be heard on our album Turn Ye to Me, released by

We so enjoyed working with four talented people, all of whom took to this project with great enthusiasm:  Stuart Murray Mitchell and Rebecca Rowe, two composers whose work we were already familiar with, and Jane McKie and Stewart Sanderson, the poets introduced to us by the Scottish Poetry Library whose words inspired the resulting music.  Read about these artists here.

One thought on “The First Elemental new work

  1. A word or two about how I approach the setting of poetry…

    There will usually be images or feelings that instantly suggest musical interpretation. It may be a tonality or harmony, or a rhythmic impulse, gesture or mood. It’s important to remember that these words will be sung and an audience might not necessarily have the text in front of them. When I read poetry, I often like to go back up the page or re-read things, in order to glean more of the intention from the poet. The listener cannot do that; they will most likely hear all of the words in one sitting and must have a chance to assimilate and take on board what has been said. The function of the music is to help convey what has been said, maybe heighten the effect and emotion, but not to get in the way of the text. So very often a word or phrase that wasn’t repeated in the original text might be repeated for effect and to be absorbed fully. But one must be careful to not disrupt the flow of the original poem. Lingering too long on something, or choosing the wrong part to highlight might obscure the intention.

    Another consideration is that these words will be sung. Singing words is naturally very different from speaking them, but there are the same concerns of pacing, diction etc. So I quite often set words to be sung exactly as they might be spoken, almost like recitative.

    Sometimes there will be a clear rhyming structure that can help dictate the structure of the song. Maybe there are verses? Perhaps musical phrases that can balance each other in terms of metre and rhythm. At other times, it is clear that something will be sung-through and one can be looser with structure.

    I love poetry and music and when one has the challenge of marrying the two to really get inside the poem to explore themes and feelings, it is fascinating!

    Liked by 1 person

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