Simon Thoumire and Aidan O'Rourke came up with the fantastic idea of bringing 22 of Scotland's finest professional fiddlers and students of the Royal Conservatiore Scotland to perform at the Celtic Connections festival this year.  The ensemble takes it's name from the Strathspey & Reel Society tradition, but with an innovative twist that leaves plenty of room for creativity within the tradition.  Four new pieces were commissioned by Creative Scotland and the composers were: Simon Thoumire, Aidan O'Rourke, Jennifier Austin and myself.  

My composition "For A' That Variation", is a collage-composition.  It includes a couple of traditional tunes that Robert Burns also used for two of his songs: A Man's A Man For A' That; and Scots Wha Hae.  I decided to write a series of variations on these tunes, and for the first time, I wanted to experiment a little with African cross-rhythm patterns.  I began by varying the tunes by looking for inspiration in the 18th Century fiddlers' style such as Oswald, McGibbon and Riddell. 

I had been recently reading about musicking in Sub-Saharan Africa and how musicians combine two rhythms together (3 beats with 2 beats, also known as a hemiola).  I was intrigued to discover that according to David Greenwood, "Many sub-Saharan languages do not have a word for rhythm, or even music. Rhythms represent the very fabric of life and embody the people's interdependance in human relationships.  Cross-beats can symbolise challenging moments or emotional stress: playing them while fully grounded in the main beats prepares one for maintaining life-purpose while dealing with life's challenges." (Greenwood, David Peñalosa; Peter; collaborator,; editor, (2009). The clave matrix : Afro-Cuban rhythm : its principles and African origins. Redway, CA: Bembe Books. p. 21. ISBN 1-886502-80-3.)

I suggested to all the fiddlers that I would like them to play my notation with their own added bowings, grace notes and phrasing.  This I knew they would all be comfortable doing as most have had experience adding ornamentation to minimal/skeleton notations in manuscripts.  I feel every fiddler has their own unique touch that is informed by their teacher and community and I wanted to leave space within the piece for their own variation.  

I also wrote two different endings for the group to vote on! They voted for the 1st ending, which I was slightly surprising by - I was positive they'd choose the 2nd ending!  By giving the group the opportunity to decide how the piece would end I felt it helped in someway to breakdown the composer/player divide.  I am a strong believer in the notion that music is not an object (noun) it is a process (verb).  By keeping space open for discussion I felt the piece became less my own and more of a group entity!  At least that was my hope... Christopher Small who coined the term "Musicking" and his book (of the same title) has been such an inspiration for me on this project.  I would like to thank Felicity Laurence who kindly introduced me to his writing whilst I was a student at Newcastle University.  Here Small states that,

"The act of musicking establishes in the place where it is happening a set of relationships, and it is in those relationships that the meaning of the act lies.  They are to be found not only between those organised sounds which are conventionally thought of as being the stuff of musical meaning but also between the people who are taking part, in whatever capacity, in the performance; and they model, or stand as metaphor for, ideal relationships as the participants in the performance imagine them to be: relationships between person and person between individual and society, between humanity and the natural world and even perhaps the supernatural world." Small, Christopher (1998). Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening. Hanover: University Press of New England. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-8195-2257-3.

 

I hope that this piece expresses my passion and relationship with Scottish traditional music-making alongside my deepest appreciation of the many other forms and traditions of musicking across the world.  The "out-of-Africa" hypothesis proposes that humans evolved from Africa between 200,000 and 60,000 years ago.  It is fascinating and may the diversity of human music-making continue to thrive for generations to come.  One day I would really love to visit East Africa to learn more about their way of life and to discover similarities and differences between our musical traditions.

"That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,

Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.  

For a' that, an a' that,

It's coming yet for a' that,

That Man to Man, the world o'er,

Shall brothers be for a' that."

From "A Man's A Man For A' That" by Robert Burns.
 
https://projects.handsupfortrad.scot/handsupfortrad/for-a-that-variation-composed-by-shona-mooney/
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AuthorShona Mooney

My score for the 1927 silent film, Annie Laurie was chosen as the best screening with a small ensemble of 2015 in the Silent London Poll.  It was such a treat to have this opportunity and I would love to play live for cinema again at some point soon. 

http://silentlondon.co.uk/2016/01/02/the-silent-london-poll-of-2015-the-winners/

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AuthorShona Mooney

This Tuesday I took a wee trip up to Bo'ness to visit the Hippodrome Cinema.  Myself and fantastic young Borders guitarist Graeme Armstrong accompanied the first 5 mins of the silent film - Annie Laurie.  Writing the score has been one of the most exciting projects I have ever been involved in.  It's incredibly challenging but also I'm really enjoying having to explore the variety of atmospheres in the film by creating pieces of music that enhance and tell the narrative of the film.  It's pushing me to play be able to compose to specific time slots and to be able to improvise around themes/motifs in order to shorten or lengthen the section of music/motif.  I'll be rehearsing with Amy Thatcher (accordion/piano) and Alasdair Paul (guitar/whistles) in the next few weeks.  They will be accompanying me at the performances: 22nd March (Hippodrome Bo'ness) and 26th April (Barbican London).

Shona Mooney: Images copyright Falkirk Community Trust. by LIsa Evans

Shona Mooney: Images copyright Falkirk Community Trust. by LIsa Evans

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AuthorShona Mooney
 

Here are some photographs from the recording session for Sensing the Park.  We had a fabulous time recording together and the recording is currently being mixed/mastered by David de la Haye.  Soon it will be available to purchase and enjoyed!  I will let you know soon when you can get your hands on a copy.  For now, here are some photos by Roberto Fernandez Castro.

Shona Mooney : Sensing the Park 

Shona Mooney : Sensing the Park 


Shona Mooney - fiddle and composition

Shona Mooney - fiddle and composition


Paul Knox - Northumbrian pipes and fiddle

Paul Knox - Northumbrian pipes and fiddle


Amy Thatcher - accordion and clog dancing

Amy Thatcher - accordion and clog dancing


Andy Watt - guitar and mandolin

Andy Watt - guitar and mandolin


David de la Haye - Bass and electronics

David de la Haye - Bass and electronics

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AuthorShona Mooney

I have some wonderful news to tell you!  The Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema have commissioned me to write some new music for the 1927 film, Annie Laurie, that features the prominent American film star Lillian Gish.  There she is with her beautiful ringlets and bonnet...

 

I have chosen to write music for a small group of musicians comprising: Amy Thatcher on accordion, Alasdair Paul on guitar/whistle and I will be playing fiddle.  The performance will be on the 22nd March 2015, which means I have only 13 weeks to complete this, so I'd better get to work on this over the Christmas period.

I'm planning to incorporate the well know melody 'Annie Laurie', which was composed by Alicia Spootiswoode (Lady John Scott) from Berwickshire (incidentally, where I grew up in the Scottish Borders). Throughout this project I will be mentored by a fabulous musician, Stephen Horne.  He plays all over the world live for silent films and I recently had the chance to see him accompany 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' - a notoriously difficult film to accompany.  He did an absolutely wonderful job, I must say, and I came away buzzing with ideas.

I'll be blogging about my writing process throughout the project, so do come back and see how I'm getting on with this challenging new project!!



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AuthorShona Mooney

During the next few weeks as I perform in various places in the Northumberland National Park I will be trying to discover stories and information about Archie Dagg, a fiddler and Northumbrian piper who lived in Swindon when he retired.  Swindon is a beautiful hamlet in the Northumberland National Park.

One of my pieces has been inspired by his musical signature which I found in his book, The Coquetdale Garland.  I turned his signature A,D,A,G,G into a larger piece of music that features a jigg which has also been inspired by the tunes I found in the collection.

So far, I have been told the Dagg family were a large family based in the Upper Coquetdale region. Dagg, in fact is a Border Reiver family name.  Archie made Kathryn Tickell's first set of Northumbrian pipes and she still uses the bellows he made for her.  Archie liked to name his tunes after the people and places in which he spent his time.  Swindon is one of my particular favourites - myself and Paul Knox will be playing this alongside a few other tunes inspired by Coquetdale landscape and history.

So, if you come along to the performances please feel free to tell me your stories of Archie Dagg and his music.  Perhaps you knew him, or even own a set of his pipe reeds? The concerts are on the 28th Feb in Alwinton Church and the 14th March inBellingham Town Hall.  both start at 7:30pm (£3 tickets on the door).

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AuthorShona Mooney

 

Here is a video of Hollin' Green Hollin' which was performed live in September for my Masters recital.  Many thanks to Roberto Fernandez Castro, Christopher Keatinge, Andy Watt and Craig Mooney.  Enjoy! 

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AuthorShona Mooney

I will be doing a few concert dates with the University of Newcastle and the Northumberland National Park in January and February 2014. On the 31st January we will play in The Kings Hall.  There will be two additional performances in February.  I will be performing some traditional material, compositions by musicians who have lived and worked in the Park and the second half will premiere my new composition that is inspired by the Park.

I'm very excited and I'm putting the final score together now for the musicians to take a look at in the next few weeks.  I haven't written for guitar and Northumbrian pipes before so I hope that it all comes together!  Fingers-crossed! Both Andy Watt and Paul Knox are brilliant musicians so I'm sure they will do a super job.

 

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AuthorShona Mooney

Today I took a trip out to Coquetdale to visit Northumberland's biggest boulder.  Recently I had read about the Drake Stone, which is a 30 foot tall stone that is perched high above the Northumbrian village of Harbottle.  The stone was used to heal sick children and local folklore tells us that disembodied cries for help emanating from the stone can sometimes be heard. These stories captivated me, so with my new walking boots at the ready I set off to visit....

Glittering in the autumnal sun the sandstone Drake Stone looks out over the heather moorland.  Many of the houses and the 12th Century Harbottle Castle (which at one point was stolen and inhabited by Scots) seem to be made from the same material which twinkles in the light.  Once I had climbed up to the top of the hill, I sat beneath gazing up trying to imagine the rituals that must have taken place many years ago.  After listening carefully around the stone I wasn't sure if the wind was whistling or if my mind was playing tricks.... some say they have seen Duergar (mischievous dwarfs) in the Coquetdale region.  I knew it was time to get back to my car before the sun disappeared.

 

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AuthorShona Mooney