Mary Ann Kennedy / Nick Turner – An Dara Sealladh

‘An Dara Sealladh’ is the Gaelic term for the Second Sight. As Nick and I worked on this commission as Artists in Association at the Aberdeen Music Hall, we were inspired in different ways by the beautiful Strachan murals situated around the balcony walls of the Music Hall. I found myself considering ideas of perception, both visual and conceptual and we wanted this piece to reflect how different perceptions of the same object, sound or idea could have an impact on how a person might then engage with the same, much as the whole APA artistic programme connected with the Music Hall’s refurbishment aims to do.

The murals were originally created by Aberdeen artist Robert Douglas Strachan over a period of years around the turn of the 20th Century. The images are of Apollo and his Muses, and various episodes of the myth of Orpheus and Euridice. Strachan was better known as a contemporary stained-glass artist, with work in places such as King’s College, Aberdeen, Edinburgh Castle, St. Giles’ Cathedral and the Peace Palace in The Hague. These early murals however show him emerging from the European Art Nouveau movement, and associating with the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk, or ‘Total Works of Art’.

As these murals were visual artistic representations of musical subjects, we decided to bring them full circle, back to a musical evocation of the Hall and its role in city life. The murals have looked down on the goings-on of the Music Hall since the first decade of the 1900s and have observed not just music-making, dancing and other artistic performances and pastimes, but the whole gamut of Aberdeen entertainment, from bazaars to boxing matches. 


This project takes traditional music into a new space…what was the process that took you there?

‘An Dara Sealladh reflects and refracts all this using a variety of inputs, including found-sounds from around the Music Hall building, from radiators to stage floorboards; convolution reverb situated in the auditorium itself; the sounds of the various in-house instruments, including the Wills organ and Steinway grand piano; the Scandi-Scottish flavours of guest artists Marit and Rona, and composed and improvised elements of music deconstructing and eventually coalescing into the final strains of one of Aberdeen’s most famous songs, ‘The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen’. The song was originally composed by Englishwoman Mary Webb, and her piano, now in the Music Hall’s Mary Garden Room, also features in the soundscape.

The voices of Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire can also be heard: during our artistic association, we encountered a wide range of attitudes to the Music Hall, with some folk finding it a rather imposing building whose granite pillars were not calculated to be welcoming. They would be right in interpreting the original builders’ intentions, but certainly not today’s! But we also heard many warm, loving and funny reminiscences from local audience members and performers, and some of these were also incorporated to reflect the Hall as belonging to the people, something we consistently saw during our time on this project.

The text reflects my own Gaelic-speaking background, and comes from ‘Carmina Gadelica’, Alexander Carmichael’s great collection of hymns, prayers, charms and incantations collected in the 19th Century, and first published at the time of the murals’ creation. It is an extract from an incantation for ‘Latha Sealbhach’, the Auspicious Day – while work is still on-going and not yet ready, and in this case, looking forward to the grand re-opening of the refurbished Music Hall. 


What other projects do you have on the go at the moment?

We are finishing Mary Ann’s second solo album, ‘Glaschu’, which is a love-song to her native Glasgow, all from the point of view of the generations of Gaels and Gaelic-speaking Glaswegians that are such a major part of the city’s story. It’s due to be released in late 2018.

We’re also about to head for the Isle of Lewis with the original music we’ve created for a new theatre piece celebrating the story of suffrage in the Western Isles. ‘Deeds Not Words’ will be premiered at An Lanntair in late February, where  Mary Ann will be working with young award-winning Gaelic singer, Josie Duncan.

Mary Ann will be touring Scotland in May with guitarist Finlay Wells, and the two of us will be at the Bath Festival around then, when we will be creating some new works with Scottish harpist and singer, Rachel Newton.


What other pieces have you seen or heard in the last year that you think will stand the test of time?

I have so loved watching Greg Lawson bringing Martyn Bennett’s music to life through the Grit Orchestra over the past few years. It mattered such a great deal to Martyn that music should have a life of its own, away from its original creator, and Greg’s visionary realisations have ensured that Martyn’s legacy is a living one.


In an ideal world, what is the piece or project that you would most like to write or create?

We heard the Irish Chamber Choir, directed by the great Paul Hiller, in Belfast last Christmas and were absolutely bowled over by them. My idea of heaven would be to create a work for voices and soundscape for them.


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