Photo: James ('Purlie') Wilson, Radical Reformer. National Galleries Scotland.
Almost every child, most parents and folk of every age take part, turning to fairy tales, the latest pop music and this year’s Disney or Pixar Movie for inspiration. But every year (as far as I recall) amidst the vibrant costumes, giggling adults and earnest children, a small group of mature and somewhat serious folk march under the banner of the ‘1820 Society’ to commemorate the life of Strathaven Weaver James Wilson. And that is the link to our Adopt a Composer project.
This year nobody from Strathaven Choral Society will be there for this highlight of Avondale’s social calendar as we shall be busy twenty miles away in St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, preparing for our West End Festival Concert which takes place that evening (7.30pm, tickets still available). Tonight was our final Monday rehearsal for which we were once again joined by our partner, Mark Carroll whose piece for us was inspired by the story of Radical Weaver, ‘Purlie’ Wilson.
In the months since we first encountered ‘Shame, Shame, He Dies for His Country’, Mark’s vision of the last hours and minutes of the unfortunate Wilson has come gradually into focus. Our own Mike Cunningham (Bass) spent hours creating invaluable practice tracks for every voice which singers could access through the members’ area of our website (strathavenchoral.com). MD Christopher Barr, as always, could be relied upon for some deft handling of our singers.
Specific to ‘Adopt a Composer’ though was his collaboration with Mark, to ensure that his interpretation, and any ‘tweaks,’ would have the imprimatur of the composer. Slowly, sometimes painfully, the piece has developed and as it blooms, our choir perhaps begins, in a small way, to echo the onlookers at that execution, not the archetypal jeering mob rather, ordinary people dismayed and appalled by the event.
Mark has delivered a piece which is melodic and melancholic, thought provoking and challenging. Whenever he has joined our rehearsals he has been positive and open. We have had to learn to take chances, to sing as individuals while still being part of a choir and to share in the vision of a piece which we can’t hear on YouTube! It has been fascinating and energising to be part of this project and its many facets. From the beginning with its origins in traditional Northumbrian songs together with the narrative of Strathaven’s most famous son, Shame, Shame, He Dies for His Country has been ‘ours’. Yes, it is Mark’s composition, but if any ensemble is to sing about James Wilson, it must be us.
On Saturday afternoon, while those persistent souls carry their banner among the balloons and face paints, we shall be adding the final touches, ready for the first performance. We hope to do James Wilson and, especially, Mark Carroll proud.