Monday 26 September 2022

Its most significant community undertaking yet: The Cumnock Tryst's A Musical Celebration of the Coalfields presents its first public performances this week

Coalfields (Photo Alex Douglas)
(Photo Alex Douglas)
Just over 10 years ago Sir James MacMillan founded The Cumnock Tryst, a four-day music festival in Cumnock, Ayrshire each October, with a commitment to building local pride, musical opportunities, profile for the region and with a significant commitment to community engagement. 

The composer grew up in Cumnock, in the heart of mining country and this legacy both rich and challenging continues to influence the communities in the area; Cumnock for all its problems needs to be in the spotlight for the many things, musical, cultural, social and spiritual that are being pursued in Ayrshire with increasing energy and vision.

Community projects and community engagement plays a big role in the festival's ongoing work, and the most significant such undertaking yet is A Musical Celebration of the Coalfields, a project delivering huge positive impact to the lives of those living in the area. The project is part of The Coalfield Communities Landscape Partnership for which East Ayrshire Council raised £2,220,500 through the Heritage Lottery Fund. The partnership is made up of 22 projects, all working to benefit the people and the area, and The Cumnock Tryst was awarded a major grant to work with local communities to create a musical celebration of their own heritage, culture and environment.

The 2013 collapse of the open cast coaling industry changed the lives of those that depended on it and left behind an ugly, unsafe, and inaccessible landscape. The Coalfields Community Landscape Partnership has initiated a project for the regeneration of the coalfields area from a cultural, physical, social, and historical point of view, and A Musical Celebration of the Coalfields is The Cumnock Tryst’s way of leading the cultural regeneration of the coalfields. 

Originally conceived as a two-year long creative project with community groups, music organisations and young people from across the area A Musical Celebration of the Coalfields immediately hit challenges as Covid-19 changed the ways in which those involved could all interact, gather and create together. The route became online for that period, resulting through a series of star-studded local workshops in a beautiful film – The Moss and the Cosmos (available from the festival website)

A Musical Celebration of the Coalfields involves around 15 local community groups across Cumnock and the Doon Valley who are at the heart of every part of writing, composing, producing and performing their stories. In the first real life iteration of the work in development, A Musical Celebration of the Coalfields brings together local music groups Strings N Things and the Cumnock Area Musical Production Society for a presentation of music they have created themselves with composers Ailie Robertson and Findlay Napier on Saturday 1 October 2022 at the Cumnock Town Hall [full details from the festival website]. Pupils of Hillside School also get in on the action on Friday 30 September 2022, joining a quartet of singers and composers James MacMillan and Matilda Brown, to perform a programme of music they have created in Blue Sky Counterpoint, a collaboration with Drake Music Scotland, Scotland’s leading organisation providing music-making opportunities for children and adults with disabilities [full details from the festival website]

This is only a taste, and the 2023 edition of The Cumnock Tryst will feature a larger project when James MacMillan will work with ten community groups across Cumnock and Doon Valley to help them create a piece of music reflecting their own response to their landscape, social history, community, people, and place. The music they compose will be a major highlight of the 2023 edition of The Cumnock Tryst when it will be performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra alongside musicians from across the area. 

James MacMillan commented "A Musical Celebration of the Coalfields is one of the most exciting projects that The Cumnock Tryst has taken on. It came about through discussions with our colleagues at East Ayrshire Council and the support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. It has enabled The Cumnock Tryst to work closely with a number of community groups in the East Ayrshire area, especially around Cumnock and New Cumnock, right at the heart of what was the coalfields area of East Ayrshire. Some of these groups are musical groups, but some are not. Some are school groups. Although the pandemic curtailed some of our plans, the 2023 edition will see the culmination of much of this work in a very special way, almost like a kind of auditorio of the different elements all coming to fruition."  

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