Armistice 100: Composer inspires East Dunbartonshire pupils

Homecoming...Martin Suckling was delighted to inspire pupils at his former school with the collaborative bells composition  created for the Armistice Day centenary. (Pic: Maurice Foxall)
Homecoming...Martin Suckling was delighted to inspire pupils at his former school with the collaborative bells composition created for the Armistice Day centenary. (Pic: Maurice Foxall)

Former St Andrew’s Primary and Bearsden Academy pupil Martin Suckling returned home recently – to help inspire a future generation of young musicians.

As the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s associate composer, Martin has been working on a special composition this year to commemorate the centenary of Armistice Day.

On the road...Martin and the SCO team worked with pupils from three local primary schools on the Armistice composition.

On the road...Martin and the SCO team worked with pupils from three local primary schools on the Armistice composition.

But the 36-year-old didn’t work in isolation on Meditation (after Donne) – he invited the whole country to get involved.

Community groups and churches across Scotland were asked to sample their local church bells and submit them.

More than 100 different bells were recorded and have now been sampled and included in the work.

The composition was premiered in St Andrews, Edinburgh and Glasgow from November 7 to 9.

Secondary school workshop...the SCO team work with pupils from Douglas Academy and Bearsden Academy.

Secondary school workshop...the SCO team work with pupils from Douglas Academy and Bearsden Academy.

However, local school pupils were among the first to hear it – and create their own version.

For Martin and a team from the SCO – namely Paul Griffiths (workshop leader), Aisling O’Dea (violin) and Yvonne Robertson (flute) – recently held workshops with pupils from Milngavie, Clober and Baldernock Primary Schools.

A workshop was also held at Douglas Academy, where Martin studied A level music.

Working with pupils is hugely important to Martin as it helped inspire his own career choices.

He explained: “Twenty years ago, I was involved in a workshop Paul Griffiths led – it was one of the things that made me want to become a composer. I told pupils how it had inspired me when I was their age.

“One of the students at the Academy workshop was from Bearsden and asked me when I left the Academy.

“When I told her it was 1999, she looked at me and said: I wasn’t even born then!

“Douglas Academy is on the same site but it’s a new school now. It was still lovely to go back though.

“I was a Bearsden Academy pupil but went to Douglas for my A level music.

“It was nice to spend some time at home with my parents Catherine and Colin, who still live in Bearsden, but being able to inspire pupils at my old school was amazing.”

It’s crystal clear from the workshop’s feedback that it helped inspire youngsters.

Martin said: “The pupils were invited to write on a post it note what they had taken from the workshop.

“One young girl wrote that she didn’t normally feel confident playing her instrument.

“But she said being involved in the workshop helped build her confidence and confirmed that she wanted to be a musician.

“These young people are our future musicians, composers and audiences.

“Pupils are so busy in school these days, it’s great to be able to take something to them that’s a wee bit out of the ordinary.

“We’re not folllowing the curriculum; we’re just giving them a chance to explore the music and expand on their ideas.

“Music can be anything you want it to be – you can be creative and experimental.

“And I think the workshop gave the pupils the opportunity to do that.”

Martin and the SCO have conducted 10 workshops with 300 Scottish pupils.

Each class has created their own composition, based on a cut down version of Meditation (after Donne).

Martin said: “The SCO hadn’t even performed it before local pupils created their own unique compositions.

“We talked to the them about the composition and how it was inspired by John Donne’s Meditation XVII.

“The poet’s reflections are triggered by the tolling of a distant bell.

“On November 11, 1918, church bells across the country pealed to signify the end of World War One.

“That is why we sampled church bells from all over the country for the composition.

“We asked the pupils to consider all that, while they came up with their own melodies and songs to accompany the bells.

“And at the end of each session, we recorded the pupils’ own version.

“So before the SCO even performed Meditation (after Donne), we already had many variations of it.

“It was always meant to be a collaborative work which would live long after the Armistice centenary.

“It’s fantastic that we’ve already been able to make that a reality.”

Martin and the SCO have already performed the piece in St Andrews and Edinburgh, with their Glasgow date tonight (Friday).

He added: “It’s the culmination of a year’s work but was only made possible thanks to people across the country who submitted bell recordings, all of whom have been credited in the programme.”