Gaining momentum in Scotland

Adopted composer Anna Appleby reflects on the great potential of her first meeting with Merchant Sinfonia.

I am on the train from Glasgow to Manchester, on my way back from my first meeting with Merchant Sinfonia for the Adopt a Composer project. The hills are surfing in and out of view, crested by turbines. I am listening to Kaija Saariaho’s Verblendungen, and it syncs up uncannily with hundreds of slowly-rotating white blades.

Suddenly I am obsessed with wind turbines: Scotland is blazing ahead with renewable energy and there is both a beauty and a practicality to the machines, just like much of Scottish culture as I have experienced it.

Of course, turbines are the most attractive kind of power generators, but I think it is intrinsically lovely to harness any natural, almost infinite resource such as wind, waves, or falling water, rather than burning oil and coal in a reckless frenzy. Even the anxiety-inducing ugliness of nuclear power stations is still preferable to our planet approach. In the Anthropocene (our current geological time period, which has seen the most significant human impact on the planet) we can't afford to be choosy.

Wind turbines symbolise hope. They are a signal of changing structures, changing attitudes - and of concrete commitment to this big old planet we have as our only home (and therefore to ourselves). I am beginning to hear possibilities for a musical wind turbine, a meeting of the mechanical and lyrical, steel and air, industry and elegance.

Merchant Sinfonia is as wonderful as I imagined: a room bursting at the seams with cheerful and focused musicians who are up for a challenge and lots of fun. I was lucky enough to play alongside oboist Alan with them last night, which gave me many insights into their rehearsal process and how it feels to sit in the orchestra (I mostly managed to join up the dots on the page, but there were definitely some blips that weren't just my reed!).

I also caught Allison's and Anne's speeches at the end of the orchestra's AGM and was inspired by the commitment and energy of the whole team. Since the time it was set up by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra with the help of Glasgow Life, this has become an independent community orchestra, is consistently popular enough to be oversubscribed, and is prepared to work away in the little spare time that its members have in order to produce regular rehearsals, sectionals and concerts.

The rehearsal itself was hard work but exhilarating, and the efficiency with which Louise led five contrasting pieces was amazing. The orchestra's quirks include up to 11 clarinets and five or six percussionists, as well as six trumpets (and a cornet) and a mighty, if tiny, bass section (one double bass and one trombone). There are also many more string players than I have seen in other amateur orchestras, which is exciting for me as there is more to play with in terms of orchestration. I will promise not to write divisi a. 8 sections though!

Maybe I won't write a piece about wind turbines, but there is something about the hope I feel sitting on this sunny train journey and the hope I felt sitting in Glasgow City Halls with the 75 people in the orchestra who not only believe in classical music, but in the potential for it to grow and change in their hands as a new, 21st century force.