Homecoming 2: The Return of Mackay’s Memoirs – Queen’s Hall

I went to Homecoming 2 at the Queen’s Hall expecting, as the event page had advertised, a ‘folk and roots’ evening commemorating the music of Martyn Bennet. In actuality, ‘Mackay’s Memoirs’, the piece composed by Bennett, was only the evening’s finale and took less than 20 minutes to perform.

Fortunately this wasn’t too much of a hardship, as for the rest of the time the audience were treated to a programme of musical talents from past and present pupils of the City of Edinburgh Music School. At times akin to a honed-to-perfection ‘School of Rock’ ensemble, at others a sentimental and moving celebration of Bennett’s life, I was amazed by the scope and quality of the performances.

Beginning with a full orchestra and choir medley of Beatles’ songs, we were soon nodding along, clapping and laughing independent of the very funny cue cards signalling ‘applause’ and ‘laughter’. The remainder of the first half was made up of five solo performances by students at Flora Stevenson Primary School and Broughton High School with piano, saxophone, French horn, and marimba tunes showcasing the diversity of their musical talent. The pieces were performed faultlessly and the students made even the most technical endeavours look effortless.

At the interval, we were surrounded by parents, grandparents, and the students themselves. The sensation that I had stumbled into a school talent show, albeit one featuring a rather exceptional level of talent, made me feel slightly out of place and I was relieved when the second half commenced, this time with performances by ex-pupils of the Music School. These often featured current pupils which provided a lovely sense of community, continuity, and support within the Scottish music scene.

I particularly enjoyed the intergenerational clarsach quartet, featuring two past pupils, a secondary school student, and a primary school player. Also of note was a fantastically entertaining clarsach and ‘percussive dancing’ duet which looked as much fun to perform as it was to watch.

Finally, after a moving commemoration of Martyn Bennett’s school days at Broughton High, for the centenary of which he composed ‘Mackay’s Memoirs’, the orchestra took their places for the title piece. The music was a fusion of traditional and contemporary influence with pipes, a full orchestral complement, and an underlying dance beat. It was evidently a passion project of the entire ensemble, who played with enormous energy and brought the piece alive. However, the accompanying animation, particularly its intermittent audio, was rather distracting and at times detracted from the music, as though the orchestra was a backing track for the visual and vocal projection on the wall.

An homage to the heritage of Scotland’s music scene, the piece resonated in the hall twenty years after its composition, filling the space with sounds of Scotland past and present as well as motifs from Mackay’s travels to Peru. It was a stirring tribute both to the late doctor and missionary Kenneth A. Mackay, for whom it was written, and to its composer who died shortly after the first recording was completed.

Bennett said of the piece, “I hope that most of all this is an apt celebration of youth that will see our heritage firmly united for generations to come.” On the evening I saw it performed his wish had certainly be fulfilled. Amidst the nostalgia of the school uniforms, and the communion of generations of musicians who had returned from around the world to celebrate their alma mater and schoolmate, the title, ‘Homecoming’, could not have been more apt.


PHOTO: Queen’s Hall

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Jess Cowie

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