This May we are hosting a very special event: the premiere of a new musical composition inspired by the works of Robert Burns. The composition is a collaboration between composer Jennifer Margaret Barker and the musical trio, Vocali3e. To find out more about how this project came to be, we spoke to Vocali3e member, Emma Versteeg.
How did this collaboration between Vocali3e and Jennifer Margaret Barker begin?
Vocali3e were part of the Made in Scotland showcase at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2013 performing a programme called “Atlantic Crossings” – celebrating creative collaborations between Scotland and America. One of the pieces performed was “Na Tri Peathraichean” (The Three Sisters) by Jennifer Margaret Barker – discovered by our pianist on an internet search for appropriate music! Ms. Barker was able to attend the concert and we kept in touch after that first meeting. Once the idea of a commission started to grow, we knew we wanted Jennifer to write it for us as we loved her music. She also has a connection to Scotland having been born and bought up here.
Why Robert Burns?
We have always loved the poetry of Robert Burns and have performed settings of his words by Haydn and Amy Beach. The poetry is so appealing and lends itself very well to music. Apart from Haydn and Burns there are not many classical settings of Burns in the original language. We found a set of 4 poems that worked well together and that was the decision made! We also liked the idea of continuing our Scottish/American links which began in the Made in Scotland Programme (Ms. Barker now lives and works in Delaware).
What are the key themes and ideas behind the piece?
The key theme is love. The 4 poems we have chosen (“I’m o’er young to marry yet”, “The Gallant Weaver”, “The seventh of November” and “What can a lassie do wi’ an auld man”) were not written at the same time, or originally linked, but the composer has drawn them together beautifully. We see different aspects of love through the song cycle, following a lassie’s journey – although not necessarily the same lass. It’s perhaps more like pictures at an exhibition – snapshots of different relationships at different moments in time. Ms. Barker has kept a folk-like feel to many of the melodies but also used some wonderful word-painting effects, drama and comedy. Jennifer can explain it better than I can! – “The more I worked with each song text, the more I discovered a myriad of emotions and feelings contained within. I therefore strove to address these elements through word-painting as well as musical colours and textures, while maintaining a singular and cohesive atmosphere or aesthetic for each song, and for the cycle as a whole”.
How long has it taken from initial concept to the completed composition?
We first had the idea to commission a piece back in 2013. We were successful in obtaining the funding at the end of last year, and Jennifer began writing in December 2014. The piece was completed at the beginning of March.
What did you find most challenging about the project?
As with many projects, one of the most challenging things was to secure funding. However we are delighted to have done so and are really grateful to Creative Scotland and the Jean Armour Burns Trust for supporting us.
What is the best thing about the project?
That is very difficult to say! I think I would say 2 things – the creation of a new work, and the chance to inspire young people. I think new work is always great because it gets such different reactions from people and is a great discussion point, so I hope that we inspire many people of all ages, but I think that working with young people on music, and inspiring them creatively is really special. None of Vocali3e would be here if we hadn’t had that at some point!
Come to the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum on May 24th to experience this awesome musical event! More information and tickets can be found here!