The aim of the Hands Up for Trad Community Music awards is to showcase and celebrate the outstanding practice and great things going on in Scotland’s community music sector to the wider public and media.
Congratulations to Alison Burns who have been nominated in the Community Music Composer of the Year category. We asked them the following questions.
Tell us more about yourself.
I write songs for the community choir and education sector and lead choirs and workshops mainly around the UK and sometimes the USA and Europe. I love songs with a relevant social context and simple, powerful, inspiring words; that’s what I’m always aspiring to write. That as well as songs that have a ‘moment’ that raises the hair on the back of your neck.
I love building up a group of strangers into a cohesive, laughing, singing community just through singing together for a day. It’s wonderful to have work that is constantly fun and inspiring. I’m also fascinated by group process and in how people learn most effectively and have written and trained on leadership in workshop situations.
How long have you or your group organisation been involved in this work and tell us a wee bit about how it all started?
I’ve began writing about 25 years ago. Around that time I was playing fiddle in a fantastic world music dance band and the band leader was forever researching and bringing really unusual songs from different cultures to add to our repertoire. I was struck by how these songs didn’t adhere to the same strict harmony ‘rules’ that I’d been taught at school and by how beautiful and interestingly ‘different’ (to my ear) those harmonies were.
I was lucky enough to have been involved in the UK’s very early community choirs’ movement in the late 1980s. So when I decided to have a go at writing some of my own material I was already connected to choirs who sang my music and gave me feedback and invited me to come and run workshops for them. And as soon as I began writing I knew I’d discovered something potent and special that I would do for the rest of my life.
What have you or your group/organisation got planned for the next 12 months?
I’m constantly writing new material but recently I got a grant from Dumfries and Galloway Unlimited to focus on my composing for a month with a view to writing something more experimental. I’m looking forward to that and hoping it will take me in a new direction. And I’ve go a fairly full workshop calendar over the next 12 months including working in Canada and the USA.
What has been the highlight of your or your group/organisation’s experience to date?
Every time I try out a new song in a workshop or with a choir is a highlight. The extraordinary privilege of hearing a group of people sing and enjoy something you’ve created is always wonderful and humbling. Other things I feel hugely proud of include: being a founder member of the Natural Voice Network – the professional organisation for people involved with community choirs and natural voice techniques; co-writing Community Voiceworks: the complete handbook for community choirs published by Oxford University Press; having my song Sunshine in my Heart used by the Aphasic Society and almost 14,000 Special Needs School pupils from all over the UK to break the record of ‘most number of people singing and signing’ a song at the same time.
How does it feel to be nominated for this award?
I’m delighted to be nominated. One of the things about working in community music is that because it’s not really performance orientated there aren’t many big ‘taa dahs’ and its easy to loose track of your achievements and how far you’ve come. Being nominated has made me step back a little and take stock!
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