Adopt a Music Creator blog: Rhymes and recollections

Aberdeenshire Saxophone Orchestra chair Foss Foster outlines Ben Lunn's research on the life of William Thom, the 'Inverury Poet' who has provided the latest inspiration on their Adopt a Music Creator journey.

Aberdeenshire Saxophone Orchestra (ASO), Ugie Voices and Ben Lunn had several discussions about the sort of material which everyone would find suitable for the collaborative work.

Both groups answered a survey about their interests and their connection to Aberdeenshire. Ben did a lot of homework and came up with Rhymes and Recollections of a Hand-loom Weaver by William Thom, also known as the ‘Inverury Poet’. Inverurie (the modern spelling) is where ASO normally rehearse, so this is exceptionally appropriate!

William Thom and his eldest son

Printed in 1847, the brief autobiographical ‘Recollections’ section is a fascinating account of the social and economic conditions of the times and their effect on the author’s life.

William Thom started his working life as a handloom weaver in early 19th century Aberdeen. After a brief period in Newtyle and some wanderings, he then returned to Inverurie.

William Thom and his son

The conditions during the Depression that followed the Napoleonic Wars were harsh. This, combined with the increasing industrialisation of the textile industry, meant the formerly well paid work became extremely poorly paid: not enough to keep and feed a family. However, despite all the privations, Thom is an entertaining and informative writer – a sort of Doric Dickens, but a lot less wordy.

While in Inverurie, just as William – now nearly destitute – is reluctantly going to appeal to the parish for help, one of his poems is printed in the Aberdeen Journal. He provides a very entertaining account of how he anxiously checks, without actually buying a newspaper, to see if it has been included. The poem is recognised as being of good quality, and is taken up and printed in newspapers all over Scotland. From then on, life improves for the by-now widowed William and his surviving three children. 

Ben has arranged it for solo bass saxophone and choir – the obvious choice for a piece about a flute! He has made this a lovely challenge for Emma and the Ugie Voices choir.

So William Thom, a voice from the northeast of Scotland, joins the tradition of the Weaver Poets of this era, such as Robert Tannahill – a friend of Robert Burns.

The second section of the book is 'Rhymes'. The first piece Ben has chosen to work with from this section is 'To my Flute', a significant poem for William, as is evident in ‘Recollections'.

Ben has arranged it for solo bass saxophone and choir – the obvious choice for a piece about a flute! He has made this a lovely challenge for Emma and the Ugie Voices choir.

Ben's other pieces are to be based on 'Address to the Don', 'My Heather Land', ‘I’ve Sought in Lands across the Sea’ and ‘The Mitherless Bairn'.

Ben will send us the new pieces when he finishes them, and we very much look forward to getting to grips with this work over the next few months.

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The Adopt a Music Creator project matches vocal and instrumental leisure-time music groups with some of the UK’s most promising music creators to collaborate on creating a new piece of music. The project leads to a premiere performance and possible broadcast. If you’re a music group or music creator and you’d like to take part, find out more