Meditation (after Donne): for chamber orchestra and live electronics

Research output: Non-textual formComposition


A tapestry of bells, softly tolling, surrounds the audience. From within the orchestra a song is born, grows, then fades away. All the while the bells continue, a reverberating tracery of recorded sound contributed by members of the public across Scotland. Eventually these too fade, and the tapestry dissolves.

Rationale – “No man is an island…”

Armistice offers us an opportunity to reflect on the shared experiences that bind us as communities, families, nations and global citizens. Responding to a commission to mark the 1918 centenary, SCO Associate Composer Martin Suckling and SCO Connect Director Kirsteen Davidson Kelly have sought innovative ways to engage people throughout Scotland in the creation and performance of a new work for orchestra and electronics that explores themes of celebration, loss, community identity and the legacy of war.

The poetic background is provided by John Donne’s famous ‘Meditation XVII’, his 1624 exhortation to recognise our shared humanity which is utterly contemporary in a world where self-interest and insularity threaten to smother alternative discourses. Donne’s reflections are triggered by the tolling of a distant bell, the sound of which will be the focus of our project. Rung out across the country when Armistice was declared, bells are potent markers of both joy and despair, public sounds with personal resonances, their complex web of associations making them an ideal symbol around which to develop a rich musical experience.

Through a series of activities led by SCO Connect, the Scottish public will be central to this project. Members of the community will provide the source material for the electronics part; multiple versions of the piece will be created by community groups and youth orchestras / choirs; a version of the final piece rewritten for flexible instrumentation will allow for touring and the possibility of amateur performance.

The key aim of these initiatives is to bring a new and engaged audience of active participants with us across the life of the project. The first innovative feature of this project is that the commissioned work for professional orchestra relies on community-sourced recordings of local bells. Secondly, the recordings are not only sourced by the public but will be made available for public use, both as a historical sound archive and as a musical resource. Thirdly, a series of projects across the central belt will enable a wide range of participants to experience the piece from the ‘inside’, either by playing a version of the commissioned work or by creating their own versions (e.g. using the bell sounds as samples to create unique sound tapestries and devising their own orchestrations of the song, or of other songs). Previous SCO Connect projects have demonstrated the value of experiential workshops in opening up new music to audiences who had not previously engaged with it, and our aim here is to generate interest and understanding through musical interaction before the premiere. Finally, after the premiere, the life of the piece continues as it returns to communities beyond the central belt with workshops and potential performances during the SCO’s summer touring season.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherFaber Music Ltd.
Media of outputScore
Size15 minutes
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

Commissioned by Scottish Chamber Orchestra for Armistice Centenary Commemmorations

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