Glenfinnan Ceilidh Band star Ingrid is inspired by the ocean for new musical commission

Ingrid Henderson, composer. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, NO F03 Ingrid Henderson 03
Glenfinnan-based composer Ingrid Henderson says growing up in the west coast fishing port of Mallaig means the themes of the year and the piece are very close to her heart. Photograph: Iain Ferguson,

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One of Lochaber’s finest and most accomplished musicians and composers, Ingrid Henderson, is steeped in the lore of the sea.

Hardly surprising, when you hear her describe the various sides of her family involvement’s with boats and the ocean.

‘I’ve always been drawn to the sea. Growing up in Mallaig, with my great-grandfather and grandfather on the maternal side running mail boats to the Small Isles and Knoydart, and then boat builders on the Henderson side, it’s probably not a surprise really that the sea has played such a large role in my life,’ she told the Lochaber Times.

And now, Ingrid, who lives with her husband and family in Glenfinnan, has drawn on that personal history for inspiration and coupled it with research alongside Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) for her latest composition which had its premiere in Glasgow on Saturday.

A well known member of the popular Glenfinnan Ceilidh Band, she was commissioned by SNH to create Message in a Bottle, a new musical composition inspired by the movements of ocean currents.

The audio-visual performance with music, song, Gaelic language, film and animation blends together Ingrid’s creative talent and inspiration with SNH’s wealth of scientific knowledge and research to mark 2020 as the Year of Coasts and Waters.

Ingrid’s piece takes as its starting point the true story of a message in a bottle placed in the sea by a young boy from Armagh in 2008 and washed up on Canna some 10 years later.

It grows to explore the incredible journeys of marine wildlife and seabirds, our dependence on the seas over time and the exchanges of language and culture around our coast, while highlighting the impact of climate change on the world’s oceans.

Message in a Bottle premiered at Celtic Connections’ Coastal Connections day in Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Saturday before touring festivals around Scotland.

Ingrid explained: ‘I’m delighted to be working with SNH to help celebrate the Year of Coasts and Waters with this special composition.

‘Growing up in the west coast fishing port of Mallaig, the themes of the year and the piece are very close to my heart. The connection of communities to the sea was all around me when I was younger – the gain from booming industries but also the loss both in terms of people and also environmentally.

‘The influence of the sea is also so prevalent in the songs and music of the Highland and Islands, with stories of love and loss, great voyages and tragedy.’

The commission is one of several special SNH events and projects to celebrate Scotland’s coasts and waters and their wildlife during the themed year and raise awareness of the importance of healthy oceans.

Becky Shaw, SNH rural development adviser, explained: ‘We’re thrilled to be collaborating with Ingrid for this special performance which is sure to be a highlight of the Celtic Connections Coastal Connections day.’

Message in a Bottle also features musicians Anna Massie, Megan Henderson and Conal McDonagh with visuals from Somhairle MacDonald and animation from Cat Bruce.

As well as Ingrid, Coastal Connections Day will present musicians from more than 20 islands, coasts and peninsulas including Tiree-based Skerryvore, Oban-founded Capercaillie, Hebridean super-group Daimh,  North Uist’s Julie Fowlis, Orkney roots groups Gnoss and Fara, fiddler Gillian Frame from Arran, and Ceol Nan Eilean from Benbecula.