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This book is the result of a project that took place during lockdown in the North East of Scotland. The Dee And Don Ceilidh Collective is a community initiative encouraging the advancement of education, arts, culture and heritage in music and dance in the area, and was the instigator of the project and resulting book.

80 participants were encouraged to go out and engage with their local environment, and record their responses to it in words, sounds, images and videos. These responses were uploaded to a project Google Earth map. Nine Scottish musicians and singers then took time exploring this map, with input from the original participants, and used it as inspiration to compose new music, both tunes and songs. This material was then taught in online workshops and made available on the project website.

This A4, 40-odd page paperback book contains the tunes and songs composed, along with the reflections of the initial participants and the stories of why each composer was drawn to write about each particular feature of the environment. It includes some of the images captured, and online links to the media map and the recorded music, as well as clearly laid out sheet music with suggested guitar chords and tempos.

The book contains three songs from Shona Donaldson, Iona Fyfe and Jenny Sturgeon, and eight tunes – one each from composers Fraser Fifield, Hamish Napier, Arthur Coates, Charlie McKerron, Adam Sutherland, and three from Paul Anderson (a fantastic air, strathspey and reel set with a very traditional feel, which deserves wider playing).

The connections to the environments being written about are clear in the recordings of this music. For example, Fraser Fifield’s Our Rivers And Glens is a very rhythmic track inspired by the Ringing Stone of Gairnshiel. The majestic The Wells Of Dee by Hamish Napier mimics the sound of the water springing from the earth and tumbling down rocks at the source of the great river. Several of the recordings include samples of birdsong, running water, and even a sliding glacier as a backdrop to the melody. Of the songs, Shona Donaldson’s Dear Mither stands out; an emotive song written from the point of view of a young man writing home to family during his time seeking his fortune in California. It was inspired by the redwood trees growing in the Aboyne area from seeds brought back from California in the 1800s.

As one participant said, “Lockdown opened our eyes to see things that were there all along.” This project has helped encourage exploration of some of the unique features of the North East of Scotland, and facilitated the creation of some innovative new music as a result. Time well spent.

Fiona Heywood


This review appeared in Issue 144 of The Living Tradition magazine