Thursday, April 11, 2024

Scotland's music: Haar from Lauren MacColl

Haar. In the northeast of Scotland that is the name for a mist that often comes in across the coast. It lends a feeling of uncertainty as one walks about and tries to find one’s way.

Musician Lauren MacColl had some of the grimmer aspects of what haar can suggest on her mind as she began writing music for an album, and working on music commissioned for Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters., MacColl’s instrument is the fiddle.

She found her way through the fog, though, to peace and hope.

“This music was written during a year of huge personal loss, when it often felt that the haar had engulfed me and those closest to me,” she said.

“Working on this album has been a solace,” MacColl continued, “and at the heart of it is a strong pull towards the coast both its fragility and its strength. Haar --- tor me-- is a reminder that that after the mist always comes the light.”

That idea appears that more than once in the music MacColl has composed and has chosen for the album she named Haar.

Most of is inspired by landscapes, seascapes, and stories of the place she calls home, the Black Isle in the northeast Highlands of Scotland.

The Black Isle is not an island, though it has a good bit of coast as it is a peninsula bounded by the Cromarty Firth, the Beauly Firth, and the Moray Firth. It lies just a bit north of Inverness. People have been coming to settle there, to work the waters and the land, since the time of the Picts and before.

Several of the tunes Lauren MacColl offers on Haar were inspired by histories of shipwrecks and lives lost at sea, and the effect these had on the communities left behind. In these tunes, MacColl has a gift for evoking hardship, change, and resilience through the music of her fiddle.

There are happier stories in the journey on which she tales her listeners as well.

One such is the set which pairs the tunes The Lost Bell and Women of the Shore. The fast paced opening tune is inspired by the true story of two bells cast in Holland for churches on the Black Isle back in 1624. They both almost made lies beneath the waters to this day. That, Lauren decided, warranted a lively tune.

She pairs it with a tune of history and resilience honoring the women who had such a large part of in the lives of fishing communities in the Black Isle and all along Scotland’s coasts and waters.

Another story of resilience is honored and illuminated in the tune Culbin. The town of Culbin, east of Nairn, was overcome by a great sandstorm in 1694. Residents fled and did not return.

About a hundred years ago, Scotland’s Forestry Commission began planting trees, and now, as Lauren writes in her sleeve notes

”Culbin is a thriving home to nature.It is an ever changing place where shifting sands continue to remind us of the power of our coasts. A place full of dragonflies and singing seals.”

That love of and respect for nature, and a view of changing life along the coast both cleared eye and poetic come through clearly in Lauren’s work. Whether she is writing a tune inspired by the northern lights, or changes in spring weather, or a memory of how her grandmother’s love for the area her family calls home inspires her own love of the place and her work to share its stories through her music, without speaking a word Lauren evokes history. community, and landscape.

It is MacColl’s clear storytelling with her fiddle that anchors and informs the music on Haar.

She has gathered a group of musical friends to come along with her on the journey too, several of them with their own ties to the area. You will hear Rachel Newton on harp and spoken word, James Lindsay on bass, Alice Allen on cello, Jennifer Austin on piano, Anna Massie on acoustic and nylon guitars, and Mairearad Green on accordion.

You may also wish to see

Lauren MacColl has other projects on the go. Among them: she is a member of the bands RANT and Salt House, and the duo Heal and Harrow with Rachel Newton.
Rachel Newton is also part of the Spell Songs project
James LIndsay is a member of the top band Breabach
The title track of Haar is part of this story, in the Music for Shifting Times series at Wandering Educators

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