Remembered feeling, a term used by visual artist Marian Leven, describes the feelings a place evokes in one’s memory. Pitcowdens, a composition for brass quintet, is about the feelings and imaginations a forest croft in the northeast of Scotland elicits for composer Petra Vergunst. For years she has visited the croft - as a destination of walks, to plant trees and to study and share its history. Though abandoned since the mid 20th century, the contours of the house, the byre, the fields and the well are still visible in the landscape. For centuries the farmer and his family and farmhands worked the land in daytime and played the fiddle and sang bothy ballads at night. Pitcowdens is based on one of those bothy ballads, The Dying Ploughboy. In this song, one of the farm workers feels his end is near and says farewell to his master and the land he used to work. In a way, he bid farewell to a way of life and working the land as farming retreated to the more fertile lower-lying grounds along the river Dee half a century ago. To express her remembered feelings and imaginations of the forest croft Petra Vergunst has taken the first four notes of this ballad – the sequence of the tonic, mediant, subdominant and dominant – as a motif to create a sense of longing, the rhythm of working the fields, and more lyrical passages that allude to the bothy ballad.
Alongside her work as a freelance community musician, Petra Vergunst has studied music composition with Patric Standford at the Open College of the Arts. Inspired by theatre, performance art and poetry, her compositions often combine music with narrated or sung texts. To reinforce the narrative character of her music she likes to resemble musical utterances with spoken ones. Like thoughts, these utterances then develop organically and are arranged in the form of monologue or dialogue. A number of her compositions have been successful in competitions and were performed professionally. Three (for alto flute), inspired by Elizabeth Blackadder’s painting Still Life, January 1972, has been performed in Aberdeen Art Gallery by Richard Craig during sound 2013. Pitcowdens (in an arrangement for flute, oboe, bassoon, horn in F and cello) was shortlisted in a competition by the St. Andrews New Music Ensemble and subsequently played by the ensemble in a workshop led by Sally Beamish. Frozen River (flute, trumpet, cello) was played by The Red Note Ensemble during Noisy Nights in Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
Pitcowdens, in an arrangement for flute, oboe, horn in F, bassoon and cello, can be listened to here.
Copyright text and music Petra Vergunst