When we grow younger

Robert looks back over this Platform-funded project working with children from East Glasgow and composer Malcolm Lindsay

Driving back from the SCO concert in Ullapool on Saturday night, the last thing I felt like doing was setting off again for Glasgow at ten the next morning. We got back at around two in the morning after a four hour drive – in time for me to watch the second half of Parenthood with Ann – a film we’d seen when it came out and which still seemed relevant and funny. A short sleep later and I was up printing off scores (my printer had gone wrong just before I left the house three days before and needed attention), writing set lists, checking I had enough clip-on mics for the instruments, marking cues in my music.

By the time Rosenna and I found Toll Cross Park in East Glasgow Su-a and Fiona were already there, Su-a having brewed up coffee for us on her primus stove, which she had got away with setting up, unnoticed, on a table inside the pavilion – nice coffee. We were to play in a tent nearby at one o’ clock – it was now twelve. We spent the time checking and sellotaping our music together. Su-a had just arrived from Ullapool, choosing to do the drive in the morning rather than the night before; Fiona had arrived the previous day from London and had stayed with her sister in Glasgow. It was a relaxed family event, involving a charity run, amongst other activities. The sun shone.

'When We Grow Younger' is a small suite of music written by composer Malcolm Lindsay which goes with recorded recollections by East Glasgow residents. Our relationship with Malcolm goes back many years – we played a concert of his music at the Cottier Theatre in the late nineties – a programme with film. In this instance, because the music was written, in some parts, to go with recorded speech, it was crucial that we play it at the metronome marking specified. Su-a was in charge of speeds – using her i-pod on silent to establish tempo at the top of each movement. A smallish audience of thirty or so drifted in to listen. One detail I had forgotten in my early morning preparations – clothes pegs! The breeze through the tent came and went and, at times, threatened to disrupt our performance. At times we had to pin our music to our stands with the scrolls of our instruments while playing. All available objects – car keys, pencils, coins – were stacked on the stand to help stop the bits of paper flying away. However, the weather was kind to us, and the wind stopped short of sabotage.

We finished with a piece written by children from Sunnyside Primary School. This was written as part of a project of Malcolm’s which uses a new software. This software makes it relatively easy to compose. It uses colours and shapes to create strings of notes on the page. Unfortunately for Rosenna the children had taken a particular shine to a red triangle sign which has the effect of transposing a note up an octave. Over-liberal use of the red triangle meant that her part was full of spectacular leaps. The piece had been written quite quickly in class with the children in groups of four. This was following a visit from us in which we played extracts of string quartet music by Haydn, Schubert, Bartok and Shostakovitch to give them an idea as to what they might be aspiring to. We had rapt attention for the best part of an hour. The piece that the children came out with sounded quite contemporary – certainly more Bartok than Schubert.

The whole project will be repeated at Platform, in the East End of Glasgow, during October. By then we will have repeated the process at another East Glasgow primary school.

The visit to the school, Malcolm’s cheerful music, the sun, the family event, the helpful staff - all these elements taken together made us feel well-disposed to that part of town. Sheep and goats grazed in a field next door. Before setting off back to Edinburgh, Rosenna and I paused to eat fruit at the top of a knoll in the park. The view over Glasgow reminded us of Hampstead Heath. All, for once, was well.

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