Da Capo Alba - making tracks

Audrey Todd, mandolinist in Da Capo Alba, talks trains and tracks on the Adopt a Composer project with composer Nick Olsen.

Da Capo Alba Guitar and Mandolin orchestra celebrated its 20th anniversary in January this year – certainly a momentous occasion and testament to the vision and energy of our director, Barbara Pommerenke-Steel, ably supported by her husband Ian.

January also saw us meeting again with our “adopted” composer, Nicholas Olsen, to explore his first thoughts on our composition. 

At Nick’s request we had, individually, provided some details on our interests, musical and otherwise (e.g. glass of wine and feet up in front of the telly) with perhaps the only uniting factor being our general fondness of our corner of Scotland.

Stimulated by talk of our interests, by his own interest in how Scottish railways are built, and the importance of the Irish Navvies in the construction of the railroads, Nick outlined some thoughts on how he saw the story of our piece developing, taking for inspiration an old traditional song from the Victorian Era, 'The Navvy Boy'. This would likely have been sung by those working on the railways in our neck of the woods.

The fledgling composition called for a bit of vocal input while we played – a piece of multi-tasking which was a challenge for some, but there was lots of interest in the parts for all sections, which is really vital to sustain an orchestra’s enthusiasm.

I wondered how accurately we had produced the sound colours and overall effects which Nick anticipated – the opportunity to work with the composer over a commissioned piece is so rare for amateur orchestras, especially a niche group like ours and it is great to be able to receive immediate feedback from Nick when we try out his ideas.

We are looking forward now to Nick’s development of this piece – he has been working on some ideas with his mentor David Horne – with some particular discussion about whether or not it would be acceptable and feasible to feature the theme song more strongly in the piece, accompanied by a folk instrument. There are pros and cons to this – certainly in terms of other groups being able to play the completed work.

Our target date for performing Nick’s piece is in early October when it will be recorded for Radio 3. This will be a huge event for us and a fitting way to celebrate our 20th anniversary year. I anticipate a well-deserved, post-performance party!


Audrey Todd
Mandolinist, Da Capo Alba


Keep an eye out for Adopt a Composer applications opening in April 2019.

Follow Adopt a Composer groups and composers on social media:

Da Capo Alba Facebook / Twitter

Nick Olsen Facebook / Twitter

The Adopt a Composer project matches vocal and instrumental leisure-time music groups with some of the UK’s most promising composers to collaborate on creating a new piece of music. The project leads to a première performance and broadcast on BBC Radio 3. If you’re a music group or composer and you’d like to take part, find out more.