The last fragment falls into place

Fragments of Red

Fragments of Red


So, I’ve written about the Fragments Project before (herehere and here) and I’m about to embark on a trip back up to the Scottish Borders to sing in the last of the three ‘Fragments of…’ events, ‘Fragments of Red’. These events have staged audiovisual installations by The Red Field involving the performance of music from a C12th manuscript fragment alongside compositions inspired by the medieval chants.

There’s been music from Seán Doherty (for ‘Fragments of Blue’) and Michael Nyman (for ‘Fragments of Black’) and this time we’ll be singing new compositions by Grayston Ives in an event at Melrose Abbey alongside a variety of medieval tunes!

The music is beautiful and I can’t wait to join up with the choir in Scotland and hear it ring out in the abbey ruins.

Fragments (revisited)

(As promised, here are some thoughts about singing medieval music and new music inspired by it! It first appeared on the Fragments Project blog, over here.)

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I’ve been singing in choirs since I was about 6 and had my first experience of singing Gregorian chant in an abbey choir when I was 13. Fourteen years on and I hadn’t sung it since, so when Matthew first approached me about singing some plain song in the Scottish Borders I was interested. Now, when I’m not singing I study medieval literature, so when he explained that the music came from a 12th century manuscript fragment that had been found in an archive near Hawick my interest became excitement which in turn became a 6 hour train journey and a performance at the Heritage Hub in Hawick for the Fragments launch event.
That was my first visit to the Borders and I was lucky enough to be invited back, just over six months later, to sing Séan Doherty’s new piece, Et Clamabant, at the Fragments of Blue event in Jedburgh. It was a singular experience for a singer, being part of an audiovisual event that went beyond a typical performance, to be at once performer and spectator, to be enveloped in the music, the imagery and the architecture of the abbey and the fragment. It was also a heart-warming experience for a researcher of medieval culture because we were singing music from the world I study and taking part in the revival of that world, letting its words and melodies ring out again.
Even more exciting was that we were also witnessing the new creative work which has sprung from those ancient texts and tunes. To experience the Red Field’s audiovisual pieces during the performance and to see the new installation in the ruined abbey, complete with the atmospheric sound sculptures, was both fascinating and moving. And to perform to such a large audience and to witness the interest and enthusiasm of everyone present for that little medieval fragment and what it represents gave me a new faith in my own work, in the idea that my own studies don’t represent a dusty little niche, but rather a different fragment, waiting to be brought into the light.

Fragments of Blue

The Red Field's installation in the abbey ruins

The Red Field’s installation in the abbey ruins

I’ve mentioned my first experience of singing with the Fragments Project in Hawick and now it’s time to continue cataloguing my more recent collaboration with it in Jedburgh, through the mixed medium of preamble and poem!

(This is a digression: Actually, just typing that makes me realise the effect my research on Dante has seeped into my blogging enterprise… Both his Vita Nuova – the narrative of his love for Beatrice – and his Convivioa philosophical treatise – are constructed from prose stories and commentaries around poems. That literary model is called prosimetrum and I appear to have accidentally slipped into it. Anyway, back to the preamble).


I was taking part in the first performance of Seán Doherty‘s ‘Et clamabant’, a piece written in response to the music in the Hawick Missal, at an event in Jedburgh Old and Trinity Church and in the ruins of Jedburgh Abbey. I’ve written a longer piece about the experience for the project blog, but for now, here’s a poem that came out of the evening:

A tea break during rehearsals at Jedburgh

A tea break during rehearsals at Jedburgh


Jedburgh Abbey

glass fallen from the windows

ground by weather

allowed now

in through emptinesses

unglazed with everchanging stain

a membrane hard not to imagine

and outside remains




if only in the persistence of window frames


if only in the voices


passed between the pillars


if only in the north wall

which half remembers holding back

the crush of sweating life

of trade and cattle profane chatter

of courting and wedding and begetting


if only in the song


if only in perception

unconvinced by the openness to atmosphere

reminding the wallstones that they belong

to the water

to the winds

to the gentle corruptions of time

to the still resounding sky

On chanting from the Hawick Missal

one side of the Hawick Missal fragment

one side of the Hawick Missal fragment

A little context: not long ago a fragment of a 12th century manuscript missal (a book containing instructions for carrying out the mass) was found in an archive in the Scottish borders. It inspired a project which has involved performances, audio-visual art, installations and new compositions.


I’ve sung in two of these events, performing plainsong chants from the manuscript and a new composition by Seán Doherty responding to its contents. While practicing and performing for these events, I’ve been prodded by the experience to write poems, the first of which (written in November 2012 at an event in Hawick itself) is here:


You want to see a soul?

A near immortal something,

a life

that sings on in a resonance of ink

nibbed to each page

with extraordinary care;

words on skin in skin, fragmented,


now exhumed and rising

word on note on tongue

from lungs expelling songs of other times

and people

and geographies

and realms entirely;

so old they’re new,

so strange they hang in air

unbound, aloud, beyond