Blas Festival offers £3,000 for a new musical commission

Great Mary of the Songs with her spinning whorl

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Organisers of this year’s Blas Festival are seeking proposals from musicians and composers for the creation of a new piece of music.

The festival, which began in 2004 and celebrates Highland music, Gaelic language and culture, will host the premiere of the new work between November 19 and 27, hopefully with a live audience after last year’s festival was held online for the first time as a result of the pandemic.

Blas is organised by Gaelic arts organisation Fèisean nan Gàidheal, in partnership with The Highland Council, and has commissioned many new works over the years including pieces from Mike Vass, Julie Fowlis, Margaret Stewart, James Ross and Mischa Macpherson.

The musician awarded this year’s commission will have a budget of £3,000 to support them compose new material or arrange existing material.

Arthur Cormack of Fèisean nan Gàidheal said: ‘The Blas Festival has commissioned many Highland artists over the years to produce new musical work and we are looking forward to what this year’s musicians will come up with.

‘It is 200 years since the birth of Màiri Mhòr nan Òran and the Covid pandemic has meant celebrations of that milestone have been limited. While not being prescriptive, we would be particularly interested in proposals which celebrate her work, or new music inspired by the values Màiri Mhòr demonstrated through her songs, many of which are relevant today; fighting injustice, land ownership, crofters’ rights, shinty, wool working, spinning, nursing and the active involvement of women in political activities.’

Màiri Mhòr nan Òran (Big Mary of the Songs), or Mary Macpherson, from the Isle of Skye, was a nurse and prolific songwriter, known for her powerful songs of protest, praise, exile and hope. Many of her songs focussed on the land struggle, a subject as relevant today as it was then. The songs, rich in imagery, are still popular with Gaelic singers, musicians and audiences today.

Arthur Cormack added: ‘While regulations in place to deal with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic will dictate the final format, at this time we hope the majority of Blas concerts and events will be live, with an audience. I’m sure this will be a welcome experience for our audiences after the last 18 months. In addition, we will hold a series of online workshops, lectures and other events after last year’s online festival welcomed audience members from around the world, many for the first time.’

This year’s Blas Festival will feature around 40 events in venues across the Highlands and online. As always, significant birthdays of some of Scotland’s most treasured musicians will be celebrated and further details of those, and other events, will be available soon.

Further information and commission guidelines can be found at www.blas.scot/commission-2021-beurla and proposals should be emailed to chrissie@blas.scot by Friday July 30.