The end of May and skies are blue. Together with teachers, helpers and more than fifty pupils I walk from the centre of Huntly to the White Wood for a singing workshop. On a dead branch over the Deveron a heron perches, and the fields on the other side of the hedge are filled with darting lamb. To keep his mind of the weight of his bag I engage a young boy in an exploration of tickly, bristly and ribbed grasses. He holds on to the grasses until we arrive at the White Wood. In 2015, Deveron Projects planted oak saplings to create a living monument to peace, and ever since it has invited artists to use the wood as a place for inspiration. Now Deveron Projects invited me to do a singing workshop with pupils from Gordon Primary. As a poet and composer I set out to write number of short songs inspired by the story of the White Wood. As teachers and pupils gathered in a circle to sing these, orange tip butterflies fluttered on the other side of the path.
There is something special about singing out of doors. When walking in the woods I often catch myself singing rounds, short songs that I sing again and again without really thinking about it. The pace of my footsteps coincides with the rhythm of the songs. The whole thing feels natural, as if for a moment I go beyond myself and am one with the wood.
In my outdoor singing workshops I try to achieve something similar. As each activity takes place in a different environment and responds to the time of year, I compose a number of rounds specifically for the event. You can know your environment by naming plants and animals, discussing the ecology of a place. You can also know your environment through sensory exploration, distinguishing pleasantly and unpleasantly scenting flowers. I would argue that singing is yet another way of exploring your environment, rendering the feeling of being one with a place for just that fleeting moment. My interest as an artist lies in the different ways in which we can know our natural environment. Singing songs out of doors provides one such way of knowing.
Copyright text and image Petra Vergunst