In the summer of 2016 I was commissioned to write a piece of music for Fèis Rois, Ross-shire’s top arts organisation. It was to be the second in their series of commissions after John Somerville’s ‘Hector’ which told the story of a boat which left Wester Ross for Nova Scotia in 1773 and those on board. My ‘story’ was to be that of Coinneach Odhar, or The Brahan Seer, a 17th Century prophet who settled in Brahan, Easter Ross.
Photo by Sean Purser.
The story of the Brahan Seer was one I’ve heard since a very young age, as his prophecies are a huge part of the Highland oral traditional. I’d written a tune almost a decade ago, a strathspey for the seer called The Prophet, as the man himself had long fascinated me. In that respect I was completely comfortable with the brief and excited for the challenge ahead. But on the other hand I had accepted a huge personal challenge which was to write and arrange 40 minutes worth of music. I’ve written tunes/melodies for years but never taken it further, and all my arranging within bands etc has always been by ear. But something my late grandfather used to say has always stuck with me – ‘Say yes and worry about the ‘how’ later!’
The process led me to a lot of thinking about how we as musicians speak about music, and how the terminology we use can often be intimidating to others in folk circles. I have certainly never regarded myself as a composer, rather if I had written a tune I’d like to think of it as adding to our big ‘trad’ pile of communal music. But we can’t do our music down, and over some intensive writing periods (sprinkled with some serious outbursts at the computer program Sibelius… at which I am a complete novice) I began to come to terms with the fact that what I was creating was a significant chunk of music to be proud of.
Although the writing process brought a large sense of personal development, the creative element was very different to anything I had done before, as there was no musical communication with others during the process. How great to unveil the music to the performers at the first rehearsal and like a newly-hatched chick, let it fly off and take care of itself. This music, The Seer, has a legacy in that it will be performed by groups of youngsters at future Feisean, and will be recorded as an album in April 2017.
The process different musicians use to write and create fascinates me, and it is one that on any level requires huge self-discipline and motivation. I am hugely grateful for the opportunity to have stretched myself within my own practice and look forward to developing from this point forward….
‘The Seer’ was premiered at Celtic Connections festival Feb 2017, on 2 fiddles, viola, pipes, accordion, harp, piano, percussion and vocals. The music will be released as an album in summer 2017.
Lauren MacColl is considered one of Scotland’s most expressive fiddle players. Her performances are emotive, engaging and informed by an equal helping of tradition and technique. “The opening medley swiftly established many key hallmarks of MacColl’s playing: its wealth of dynamic variety and colour, the fluid agility and full-bodied weight of her bowing, her authoritative balance of fire and lyricism, vivacity and elegance.” (The Scotsman).
Originally from the Black Isle, she was immersed in the rich culture of the Highlands from a young age, learning her traditional music through the Feisean movement in Ross-Shire. “Even with MacColl’s own compositions, one did not have to scratch too far to find some Gaeltachd influences with MacColl one fiddler who owes a clear debt to the Highland piping traditions as much as her own instrument.” (Inverness Courier). She continues to be inspired by old music from her home area, those tunes forming much of her repertoire.
For more information about Lauren’s work and her up-and-coming gig dates visit: