‘We could lose this little piece of paradise’ – Harpist’s award-winning composition inspired by Shetland

A harpist has penned an award-winning composition inspired by the beauty of one of Sheltand’s nature reserves – but also the sadness at what could be lost. 

Sarah MacNeil, a graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, was today announced as a winner in the In Tune with Nature contest, for her piece based on Noss Nature Reserve. 

The competition, which is organised by Scottish Natural Heritage and Fèis Rois as a chance for musicians to show their love of nature, features 12 winners – all inspired by one of ten Scottish reserves. 

MacNeil, who works as a full time musician on the Scottish mainland, has yet to visit Noss in person – but said she was inspired by photographs, video and extensive correspondences she held with some of its wardens. 

Her piece focuses on the island’s rugged charms – but also the wardens’ warnings of how its extensive seabird colonies are under threat from climate change.

“I was inspired by the beauty of the place but also the sadness that we could lose this little piece of paradise,” she said. 

MacNeil is hoping to visit Noss in person in the coming months to record a music video accompanying the piece, which has been penned for harp with a string quartet accompaniment and also features spoken word. 

Earlier this year, she released an EP titled Northbay inspired by the Isle of Barra. 

Sarah MacNeil Picture: Supplied. 
Sarah MacNeil Picture: Supplied. 

She is often inspired by places, scenery and the nature and felt In Tune with Nature was the perfect inspiration and opportunity to write new music.

The competition was judged by a panel of well-known faces from the Scottish music industry, including Julie Fowlis; Vic Galloway; Gill Maxwell; and Karine Polwart, and is part of the celebrations for the Year of Coasts and Waters 2020.

Galloway, a broadcaster, author and musician, said he was honoured to be asked to assess so many brilliant applicants.

“Although it has been an epic task listening to almost 150 musical compositions, I’ve loved the sheer passion and diversity of music on offer – from classical to traditional, acoustic song writing to electronica, spoken word to rock, and way beyond,” he added. 

“For these stunning Scottish nature reserves, I think we have some worthy winners and some extraordinary music to accompany them.”

Fowlis, a multi award winning Gaelic singer, said it had been a “privilege'” to listen.

“Some of the pieces reduced me to tears,” she said 

“One of the most impressive aspects of this competition was the output from our some of our youngest composers, displaying real skill and talent.”

Each winner will receive £500 and the opportunity to collaborate with a professional film maker to produce a  a video on the nature reserve that inspired their music.

Ben Ross, SNH’s head of nature reserves, said that due to lockdown the participants had to experience the reserves virtually, or based on past visits. 

“But this seems to have been no barrier, with so much to appreciate on our reserves, particularly during the Year of Coasts and Waters 2020,” he said, 

“We have such an amazing variety of marine wildlife and seabirds in Scotland, as well as stunning beaches, lochs and rivers. It’s hard not to be inspired by such beauty.”


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