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Music for the Weaver Poet - February 2021

Updated: May 23, 2023

Aberdeenshire Saxophone Orchestra, Ugie Voices and Ben Lunn had several discussions about the sort of material that everyone would find suitable for the collaborative work. Both groups answered a survey about their interests and their connection to Aberdeenshire. Ben did a lot of homework and came up with 'Rhymes and Recollections of a Hand-loom Weaver' by William Thom, also known as The Inverury Poet. Inverurie (the modern spelling) is where ASO rehearse normally so this is exceptionally appropriate.

William Thom and his eldest son

Printed in 1847, the brief autobiographical 'Recollections’, section is a fascinating account of the social and economic conditions of the times and their effect on the author’s life.

William Thom started his working life as a handloom weaver in early nineteenth century Aberdeen. After a brief period in Newtyle and some wanderings, he then returned to Inverurie. The conditions during the Depression which followed the Napoleonic Wars were harsh. This combined with the increasing industrialisation of the textile industry meant the formerly well paid work became extremely poorly paid; not enough to keep and feed a family. However, despite all the privations Thom is an entertaining and informative writer:- a sort of Doric Dickens but a lot less wordy.

While in Inverurie, just as William, now nearly destitute, is reluctantly going to appeal to the Parish for help, one of his poems is printed in the Aberdeen Journal. He provides a very entertaining account of how he anxiously checks, without actually buying a newspaper, to see if it has been included. The poem is recognised as being of good quality and is taken up and printed in newspapers all over Scotland. From then on life improves for, the by now widowed, William and his surviving three children.

So William Thom, a voice from the north east of Scotland, joins the tradition of the Weaver Poets of this era, for example Robert Tannahill who was a friend of Robert Burns.

The second section of the book is the 'Rhymes'.

The first piece that Ben has chosen from these to work with is 'To my Flute', a significant poem for William as is evident in ‘Recollections'. Ben has arranged it for solo Bass saxophone and choir - the obvious choice for a piece about a flute! Ha Ha! and has made this a lovely challenge for Emma and Ugie Voices choir.

Ben's other pieces are to be based on 'Address to the Don', 'My Heather Land' ‘I’ve Sought in Lands across the Sea’ and 'The Mitherless Bairn’ . Ben will send us the new pieces as he finishes them and we very much look forward to getting to grips with this work over the next few months.

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