A musical reflection on Deeside’s changing habitat

A University of Aberdeen student and composer has joined with his father – an emeritus professor of the institution – and a leading violist to create a musical tribute to the Cairngorms.
Pete and Joe Stollery (Pic: Spud ‘n’ Duck)Pete and Joe Stollery (Pic: Spud ‘n’ Duck)
Pete and Joe Stollery (Pic: Spud ‘n’ Duck)

The trio have created a musical reflection on Deeside’s changing habitat titled On A Wing and A Prayer, which will be performed at The Barn in Banchory for the first time on March 14.

Student Joe Stollery, originally from Monymusk, graduated with an MMus in Composition from the University of Aberdeen in 2016 and was recently successful in the viva voce exam for his PhD in Musical Composition.

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He attended a workshop at the University as part of his studies where he met violist and music creator Katherine Wren and ideas for musical collaboration based on a shared interest in the natural world began.

Joe’s father, Professor Pete Stollery, is a composer and sound artist who taught at the University for more than three decades before retiring in 2022. His work centres on sound and how it relates to place.

The trio decided to explore how music could be used to help people connect to environmental issues in ways that words and science alone cannot and, following a residency in Braemar in January, they became fascinated with the way nature has regenerated in the Glen Quoich area.

On A Wing and A Prayer is a musical and emotional response to the sights, sounds and stories they experienced there.

The performance will include field recordings which form the basis of an electroacoustic score by Pete, over which Katherine will perform music on the viola composed by Joe as well as her own improvised response.

The music will reflect the damage and violence caused by an increase in flooding events but will also reflect the tranquillity of Glen Quoich as experienced by the musicians during heavy snowfall in January. Katherine will also perform Joe’s Deer Tracks for Solo Viola and a new piece inspired by the birds (whose numbers have increased since Storm Frank) inhabiting the wetlands around the Upper Dee.

The performance at The Barn will include the premiere of Icelandic/Scottish composer Charles Ross’ The New Forest, inspired by Hallormsstaður National Forest in East Iceland which, like the Caledonian Pine Forest includes both pine and birchwood.

The programme will end with Deeside fiddler Paul Anderson’s Bonnie Glen Quoich.

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Joe Stollery said: “This project has been an eye-opening experience for me and led me to some interesting compositional ideas to explore. I was greatly inspired by the visit to Glen Quoich and got to learn from the staff at Mar Lodge about some fascinating insights regarding the local environment, its wildlife and recent natural events which has shaped the landscape, as well as how it connects to global matters around climate change. Katherine has been wonderful in giving me some ideas for improvisation, and I feel we all worked very well as a team in creating this collaboration, passing on sounds to one another and responding in our own ways.”

Katherine said: “Coincidentally, this year has seen the largest number of named storms since 2015 when the system was inaugurated and the year in which Storm Frank hit Deeside. As a frequent visitor to Deeside, I’m very conscious of changes, positive and negative, manmade and natural, to the habitat and climate. Through my music I hope to convey my emotions about the natural world and to stimulate conversation with people about their own experiences. As On a Wing and a Prayer visits composers in other areas of the Highlands and Islands, I hope we can share our experiences and start a conversation across Scotland and the North Atlantic sharing the sights, sounds and experiences of our changing habitats between musicians and our audiences.”

Pete Stollery said: “Working on this project has allowed us to respond creatively to each other’s ways of working, thus informing one’s own practice. It was important for us to bond as a creative unit which we did extremely effectively during our three days in Braemar in January. Braemar and Loch Quoich have yielded some wonderful sounds and it’s been really helpful to be able to engage with the staff at Mar Lodge Estate, Braemar Gallery and the locals in the village. We couldn’t have done what we did without their insightful local expertise.”

On A Wing and A Prayer takes place on March 14 at 7:30pm at The Barn, Banchory. Tickets are available from thebarnarts.ticketsolve.com/ticketbooth/shows/1173652872