Four Corners Profile: Corrina Hewat

Corrina Hewat: Q&A

Tell us about your piece. What inspired it?

Having the remit to write about where you were brought up was actually a very inspiring thing. I am more often moved to write music when I have a story to recall of a meeting of people, an event, a place which stirred some deep emotion and so I found writing about my home abundant with memories – real and dreamt, powerful memories of growing up in a beautiful place. My family had moved to the Black Isle when I was very young from a deprived area in Edinburgh. I had never seen so much blue sky, green fields, the sea just over the way, it felt like heaven. There are a few areas in the Black Isle that affect me more than others. I made a decision not to write about the ‘classic bits’ like the Fairy Glen, the Clootie Well, and others, mainly because I didn’t feel a deep attachment to them. I wrote about places I had grown up in, loved, formed my guiding thoughts in, met folk I will never forget in, and spaces I will never lose the beauty of in my mind.

How difficult is it to capture a place in music?

Hmmm, well I think it is all very subjective. I enjoyed the process very much and found once I had the initial gem of an idea the rest came very quickly and easily. But then again, it’s my place – it’s my head. And I may not have captured the place to your satisfaction, as you’ll have a completely different relationship with it. But if you can put yourself there, physically or mentally, and smell, taste, feel, hear and see it, then I think you can write it in music. I hope I have done the Black Isle and its villages and towns justice. Even just a touch of it. I could have written and written and written, but our remit was that we were writing as four composers together, so it wasn’t all mine to write. Which was an interesting place to be musically too!

To what extent have you tried to segregate the 'classical' quintet and the 'folk' quartet in your score?

I didn’t segregate them at all, at least that wasn’t my intention. But there are some areas that are definitely ‘McFall’s’. I wouldn’t want us tradders messing with a joyous ensemble such as themselves, so I let them play moments to themselves, just as the trad musicians have moments to themselves too. But just tiny bits - whispers of thoughts, really. I thought more of the instruments and the players working together rather than ‘classical’ and ‘folk’ working together. I would always rather write for musicians specifically. Musicians I can hear how they sound, what they do. I’ve never been inspired to write an orchestral piece for an orchestra I don’t know. Probably lack of experience instills that in me – I’ve never written for full orchestra yet, so don’t know how I would deal with that. That’s a lot of folk!

Have you worked on a collaborative project such as this one before, with other composers?

I have worked with David Milligan on Unusual Suspects pieces and The Gordon Duncan Experience (a big band made up of 13 – 18 year olds based in Perth). That can sometimes be “Here’s an idea, let me have an idea of yours” and we’ll both separately work on it, passing it back and forth until we’ve worked through all the ideas we have for a piece. We also worked with Gordie Sampson from Nova Scotia on a collaborative Scottish/Canadian Unusual Suspects, which involved many late night phone calls and emails throwing tunes and ideas across the water until we’d built up a full show together. Other collaborations that spring to mind that I’ve enjoyed have been with Karine Polwart on a ‘Songs of Conscience’ show, Mary Jane Lamond for a Cape Breton showcase, Maggie MacInnes on a ‘Scottish Men’ showcase, all for the Celtic Connections Festival. But these all incorporated older material as well as some new work, so we had a wealth of traditional music to explore to come up with a show. One show, which took me to new ground, was with Kathryn Tickell. We composed ‘The State of the Union’ in 2006 to ‘mark’ the anniversary of the Treaty of Union joining Scotland and England in 1706. It was commissioned by Brampton Live and performed only once. Kathryn and I had worked together in the past creating new and old music and words from her family and homeland and my own. It was a lovely project, and one close to my heart. Apart from that, every other commission I have done solo, only collaborating with those who have commissioned it. One such inspirational place is Mull, and specifically An Tobar and Gordon Maclean who drives new work into being through hard work, determination and genius.

How well do you all know each other, and what's it like working alongside them?

I suppose I know all the composers pretty well now. Aidan was in the Unusual Suspects way back at the start of the band. He also played on my ‘Making the Connection’ commission back in 2000. I remember partying hard with him in the Bongo Club before we really had ever played any music together. Fraser and I have had many meetings in various line-ups including ‘The Boy and the Bunnet’, the most recent piece by James Ross. This is a story in Scots (and a version in Gaelic) along the same lines as Peter and the Wolf with characters and instruments telling the story. So we all know each other, which makes it a very comfortable, relaxed situation. We can all be ourselves, honest with each other, without worrying about small talk. Although we are all extremely nice I hasten to add! And our small talk is second to none!

You've all had some interaction with McFalls in the past. What's your own background with Mr McFall's Chamber?

Hmmm, another interesting question. I first came across Mr McFall’s Chamber in the Bongo Club. They blew me away with their intense care and precision to their music, but also their daring choices in what to play, who to work with - all music was acceptable, all venues, and such great humour! Their attitude to life was immense. They would play the most outrageous music one minute, then a carefully crafted slow air the next and the audience went with them every step of the way. I loved them from the first moment I heard them. McFall’s were playing at Distil a few years ago, and I jumped at the chance to adapt something for them. Which led to them performing ‘Making the Connection’ at the Edinburgh International Harp Festival with me in 2010. I was able to get them in the recording studio to record it at that time. It’s STILL sitting there waiting for me to have time to mix and master it. I will one day release it somehow. That piece means a lot to me as I wrote it originally for Martyn Bennett on pipes, and I also had the illustrious Johnny Cunningham on fiddle, along with the choicest traditional players on the scene. And of course Martyn and Johnny are no longer with us. I have the original desk mix of the premier performance which (although we came crash-landing towards the end) was a moment I’ll never forget. We may even perform a bit of this piece during the tour, which would be very special.

How do you feel about being involved as a performer as well as a composer in this project?

I usually write and perform, so this is ‘the norm’, although I think I would love to write and not perform. Just let others take the music and do what they will with it. So I could carry on writing! Working with the Gordon Duncan Experience gives me that luxury, and I just have to wave my arms about in front like a lunatic until they get it. Although to be honest, I love conducting. Misguided I know, but there you are.

You've had the first rehearsal now and each heard the other's compositions. What are your impressions?

I think each of the composers have created something that is very individual to them and their homeland. You will certainly know who wrote which bits!! It is as clear as the differing landscapes from our ‘four corners’ and I was amazed at how apparent it was. I think Scotland is a joyous amalgamation of music from all over the globe, as we all soak it up like sponges. Yes, I do seem to be saying Scotland is a giant sponge… Anyway, the four composers on this project are perfect examples of that. You will hear leanings towards traditions from our own country and from a wide range of other places, but we have all written music for this project that is true to our hearts, and very real. I love it all – I’m very proud to be involved in such a strong beautiful project.


Corrina Hewat is a harpist, singer and composer. Born in Edinburgh and raised in the Scottish Highlands, her huge range of musical influences has contributed greatly to her very individual take on traditional music. In the years following her study of Jazz & Contemporary Music at City of Leeds College of Music, Corrina achieved recognition and critical acclaim for her work with bands Chantan (singing trio), Bachué (with pianist David Milligan), Shine (with Mary Macmaster & Alyth McCormack) before going on to form Scots supergroup The Unusual Suspects, also with co-musical director David Milligan.

The essence of Corrina’s music lies in her passion for Scottish traditional music and song, but what sets it apart is her blending of other musical genres. Her love of traditional, folk, jazz, contemporary, classical and pop music has in no small part influenced Corrina’s style of performing and composing over the years – a style shaped by a fascination with experimental music and improvisation, alongside a deep respect for the more formal architecture of music. As a harpist, having developed a creative and powerful technique, Camac Harps sponsored her with the gift of an Electroharp in 2002. She was nominated Instrumentalist of the Year 2004 at the Scottish Traditional Music Awards. As a singer she is blessed with a beautiful earthy voice. The diversity of her stylistic influences is reflected by some of the artists she has worked with; Eric Bibb, Horse, Carol Kidd, Peggy Seeger, Gordie Sampson, Eddi Reader, Karine Polwart, and more recently Bobby McFerrin in an impromptu improvised performance during his Celtic Connections show.

Corrina has earned an enviable reputation as one of Scotland’s most creative writers and bandleaders. As well as being a prolific tunesmith and now branching into songwriting, she has written several large-scale works for instrumental and choral ensembles. Her natural flair as a leader has seen her called upon to MD a wide variety of shows including producing the annual ‘TMSA Young Trad Tour’ annually since 2005. She is also co-MD for the ‘Gordon Duncan Experience’, a 32-piece big band of 13-18 year old musicians in Perth. She was MD for Feis Rois 25th anniversary and has also written for and directed Feis Rois in Nov 2011 at the Music for Youth showcase at the Royal Albert Hall.

In the summer 2010 she started working with the British Council’s ‘Shifting Sands’ project merging Middle Eastern music with the music of the UK, her input being described as ‘gold dust’ by the musical director Andy Mellon. Corrina has always loved collaborating with others and this has led her to recording over 40 albums in the last fifteen years under her own name, with various bands and as a session musician and producer. Aside from solo performances, projects close to her heart include; a duo with Kathryn Tickell and vocal trio Grace, Hewat, Polwart with Annie Grace & Karine Polwart.

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