Hector MacInnes - I am from the Isle of Skye. I was born in 1981, the year it all started going wrong for disco. I was born on the shared birthday of Bob Marley and Rick Astley, two celestial fixtures of encouragement and grave warning that continue to guide me through music and life to this day. My earliest memory of playing a musical instrument is being shown Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygene and Europe’s The Final Countdown on a piano. Since becoming a teacher in my mid-20s I realised that pieces of music that can be played successfully by 8-year-olds attain a special kind of permanence in musical lore.
When I was a teenager I took great pleasure in gathering up some of the things I had recorded onto cassette and destroying them. I can’t imagine the overwhelming nausea I would feel now if I returned to the age of 17 only to find that I had foolishly shared my early work all over the internet in such a way that they could never be deleted. I feel sorry for the teenagers I meet today who are denied any kind of sacrificial bonfire. Thankfully most of them are much better at playing the guitar than I was. I’ve almost always been in a band. I started off in a band with my brother Myles [a.k.a. Mylo] and I’ve been in a band with my friends from Skye for almost ten years. I like writing music on my own, but performing on my own leaves me feeling orphaned and confused. My current band, The Dead Man’s Waltz, perform songs about crime, misery and death – mainstays of traditional song, of course. Similiarly, with 6:42am I wanted to write something that deliberately misused the tools of traditional music. The main accordion theme, for example, has quite a conservative structure from a rhythm point of view, but the notes are all in the wrong order. On the night I felt lucky that irreverence was on the judges’ agenda. It now seems obvious that irreverence would be on the judges’ agenda, but I didn’t really think it through properly.
The one occasion I saw Martyn perform was at the Skye Gathering Hall. I can’t remember quite why I went, because I didn’t know anything about him at the time. But there was a definite sense of the musicians in the crowd looking at each other and thinking, “oh – so you can actually do that!?”. Since then, the piece that has struck me most has been “Hallaig” – perhaps because something so seemingly drenched in tradition as Sorley MacLean reading his own work might sit so comfortably with that kind of music. It’s the sort of thing that might have sounded like a terrible idea on paper, but when I heard it I didn’t have to think twice about it. Because 90% of my output has been song, figuring out what I was doing without using words was perhaps the biggest challenge. I heard Alfred Brendel on the radio yesterday explaining how important it was to realise that music can be genuinely funny without the aid of lyrics or the stage. I hope I partly managed to do that.
The first thing that happened when my piece was being played at the finalists’ concert was that Anna Massie read the title out and everyone in the audience laughed. You might not think that was a great start, but it set me at ease. The second most frequent question I was asked after winning the award was about what other traditional music I had written. My initial reaction was that only a select few pieces would fall into this category, but I was struck by the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon upon actually thinking about it. Everything suddenly bore the influence of traditional music. The most frequent question was about what I’m going to do next. The answer, of course, is that I’m going to write more music…
Download the winning score in pdf fprmat: 6:42am, Two Dances for Children and Household Appliances
Christopher Bradley - Before hearing about the Martyn Bennett Prize, I knew only really of Martyn's reputation and not of his music. So when I decided I would go in for the competition, I naturally did some research into Martyn and did quite a bit of listening to his music. In it, I found an expansive and open hearted mind at work. And I found his reputation to be absolutely warranted. This would be the first composition I'd written incorporating traditional Scottish instruments and aesthetics and so I felt on the back foot with inexperience but also a sense of the upper hand from there being an unsullied blank canvas before me. My feeling was- a fresh brush could make sweet mistakes!
I thought of the values that Martyn stands for in music but I also thought of what in traditional Scottish music I had always felt could have been different or more developed. Looking at 'Ready Thyself' and the main body of the piece I think it's apparent that I was looking to mash up the harmonic palette and play with the listeners expectations of melody. So you have quite a lot of chromaticism (moving in semi-tones and accidentals) and 'blue' notes here and there that I think give it some personality and a sense of rebellious intent within what is essentially a heavy and brooding D minor stomp! I opted for a simple and plaintive piano melody on either side of the main body of the piece as I wanted to set up a marked contrast to the relentlessness of the 'stomp section' and a kind of pressure release at the end of it all. It's either- hold onto that pressure you've built and make THAT the 'clincher' or give the listener a way out and a pat on the back for putting up with you for 7 minutes! In this case I wanted to be civilised and polite, so the piano melody comes back at the end. My mood in writing was one of anticipation and intensity and probably a touch of wanting to prove oneself, and I think that comes across in the piece- hence my decision to call it 'Ready Thyself'.
I will be looking out for more opportunities to compose in this style and of course I'm already thinking about what to write for next years competition!