Scottish National Trust / SCO / SAM at St Abbs

In May 2011 I delivered a composition and listening programme as part of the St. Abbs Music Project: a joint initiative between The National Trust for Scotland, Sound and Music (SAM), the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO), Scottish Borders Council’s Arts Development Team and Youth Music Intitiative.

The St Abbs Music Project will see the creation of a new music composition by composer Howard Moody that celebrates the significance of the St Abbs Head coastal and marine nature reserves on the stunning coastline of the Scottish Borders.

Sonic Postcards is SAM’s unique national education programme which encourages participants to “open their ears” to explore and compare their local sound environments through the composition and exchange – via the internet – of sound postcards, shared with other schools and members of their community.

As part of ‘pARTicipate’ – a new National Trust for Scotland learning initiative which seeks to engage people with their conservation work – SAM have been working with P6 classes from two primary schools in Eyemouth and Coldingham to explore and capture the sounds of the St Abbs environment over the course of 3 days in May.

Day 1: The project was launched with a site visit to St. Abbs Head, where National Trust for Scotland Property Manager, Liza Cole, and audio artist Pippa Murphy led the group around the cliff tops in search of the perfect recording locations. Pupils captured sounds of the various species of birds that flock to St Abbs, as well as the sea and the stones beneath their feet. The group had a great time, although the windy conditions made recording very challenging!

Day 2: On Wednesday 25th May, Pippa and Sound and Music Learning Producer Natasha Chubbuck were joined by Sandra Morrison from NTS as they returned to Coldingham Primary School for a morning session with the group, exploring listening skills and making more recordings in the classroom.

After listening back to recordings from the trip and hearing examples of individual birdcalls, the P6 group used their own voices to amazing effect re-creating the calls of kittiwakes, puffins and guillemots, as well as the whistling wind. In the second half of the session pupils worked in pairs to create unusual sounds from things they found in the classroom. They made some great recordings that really complimented the audio recordings made on site: who would have thought a pen on a whiteboard could sound so much like squeaking chicks, or a box of pegs like stones crunching on the beach!

After the gales of the field trip, Pippa and Natasha took advantage of the calmer weather and returned to St Abb’s Head that afternoon to make some more recordings of the kittiwakes and guillemots nesting on the sea stacks.

Day 3: On Thursday 26th Pippa, Natasha and Kirsten Hunter, SCO Connect Officer, were back at Coldingham Primary for the final day of the project; creating the Sonic Postcards. After recapping on Wednesday’s sound recordings the class worked with Pippa to create their own class Sonic Postcard (see below).

In the second part of the session the pupils worked in pairs to create their own ‘graphic scores’ using the sounds they had recorded, before creating their own Sonic Postcard compositions using Audacity on the classroom computers. All the children did a great job and it was amazing to hear how different their Postcards were, despite being composed from the same group of sounds. Many of them really told a story through the sounds they used and the arrangements they had made.

In the afternoon the rest of the school and parents were invited to listen to the Sonic Postcards that the P6 students had created – an amazing achievement in such a short space of time!

Following the Sonic Postcards project the children involved will have the opportunity to contribute the sounds they have recorded to the new composition by Howard Moody, which will be performed as part of the SCO’s South of Scotland Tour in 2012.

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