I belong to that generation of Scots for whom, shamefully, Scottish culture played no discernible part in education. So I came to our national bard late and, oddly enough, through music rather than words.
Last night, a musical project I’ve been involved with for four years finally came to fruition with a performance at the official ‘end of show’ party for Scotland’s Year of Homecoming and the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns’s birth. Alex Salmond sent along Jim Mather, his Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism, to make a speech, Dougie Maclean sang a song and we, The Birnam Quartet – so called because we first met at the weekly session in the pub in my village of Birnam, played some tunes.
The project was to record instrumental versions of the beautiful old melodies that Burns set his lyrics to. In a year crowded with his songs, poems and letters, we wanted to look at the man through the lens of the music he loved rather than the words he wrote. Now we have a CD* and a small tour of concerts and workshops about to run through the spring.
In the show we intersperse the music with anecdotes from Burns’s life, as well as stories about the provenance of the ancient tunes he chose for his songs (and helped to immortalise in the process). This calls for a script – which I duly wrote, the music playing like a soundtrack in my head as I did so.
When I came to read it back I realised that my exposure to the music had subtly enriched my understanding of the man and my appreciation of his genius with words. It had also, I like to think, added something – rhythm, depth, colour, I’m not exactly sure what – to the words I had written myself.
Language flourishes when the other senses are stimulated. It may seem obvious, but it’s still very easy to forget, especially in the world of work. Yet go out to a great concert, movie, exhibition, play, even meal and there’s a fair chance that you’ll bring something extra to the letter or report you have to write next morning.
When Tim Smit founded the Eden Project he insisted that every member of staff had at least one cultural experience a month and wrote a review of it. He knew very well that creativity begets creativity. If only more people in the business world did.
* We’re launching The Music of Burns this Saturday, 6th Feb, 7.00pm at the Birnam Institute, Birnam, Perthshire. Come along if you can. And I can avidly recommend Robert Crawford’s recent, brilliant biography of Robert Burns, The Bard.