Scales, Sails and Surf
Caithness Horizons, Thurso, 7 April 2012
CAITHNESS Horizons in Thurso is gradually becoming the cultural hub the North of Scotland requires, writes George Gunn.
HOT on the heels of the Gillie Mor Festival comes Scales, Sails and Surf, a week long musical performance project between Robert Aitken’s Piping Arts Limited and Caithness Horizons, involving 21 young musicians from all over Caithness who gave a spirited outing to their talents in the main gallery to a large audience last Saturday afternoon.
The theme of the four strands of music performed was the Pentland Firth itself; its history, its environment and its sheer power and beauty. The first strand, “Pentland Firth FM”, took the form of a radio programme and featured all the young musicians contributing something. The effect was as if one was turning the dial across the long wave-band of musical experience: all snatches of tunes and hoots and toots from various instruments and players. A very democratic musical kaleidoscope.
Katrina Gordon, one of the tutors on Scales, Sails and Surf, and a highly regarded composer in her own right, performed on piano, along with her daughter Belinda on clarinet, a very moving new piece inspired by the runes carved on a stone, which is part of the Caithness Horizons museum collection, ‘…in memory of his father Ingulf’ by a nameless Caithness Viking from the early middle ages. This was followed by another accomplished piano piece which charted the journey of Dounreay into the “new energies” of the future. This was music making of the highest calibre.
“Last Footsteps of Home” was a short, haunting pipe piece composed by Robert Aitken, director of Piping Arts Limited, with an accompanying slide sequence of images projected against Caithness Horizons’ huge map of the North, portraying a girl’s emigration from the Highlands. As many of the clearance ships left from Scrabster this was an apposite and highly charged contribution.
The main current, however, was the creativity of the children themselves and in the title piece “Scales, Sails and Surf: a tribute to the Pentland Firth”, their well tutored talents came into their own. This was a four part musical tide-race of bodhran, accordion and fiddle which melded into a flowing piano melody with an accompaniment of rain-sticks and other percussion. This ebbed into a delicious rush of oboes, trumpet, flutes and the recorded voices of surfers describing the sensation of riding the waves at Thurso East, and all brought to an impressive musical conclusion by the gentle coaxing and ever generous Robert Aitken.
Even with the presence in Caithness Horizons of the RNLI this was an event which was never in need of rescue and proves that with careful and sympathetic tutoring young musicians can, in a comparatively short time, produce music and levels of performances well beyond what is normally expected.
But there was nothing “normal” about Scales, Sails and Surf, and Robert Aitken and Piping Arts, with the assistance of the tutors Katrina Gordon and Susie Dingle, have to be commended in bringing forth the flood of talent which is within all of these 21 children, of all ages and sizes. Caithness Horizons, with projects such as these, is reaching out to all areas of its community, and as one initiative leads into another is becoming an indispensable centre for cultural expression.
© George Gunn, 2012