A work for professional ensemble and amateur musicians commisioned by the Fair Isle Community to celebrate the island's heritage and present-day culture.

Premiered in the Fair Isle Community Hall on 23rd August, 2002.

Given Days

"After the usual periods of high winds, driving rain, heavy salt and gales, we often get a day of calm bright sunshine - a 'given day'. Then we appreciate being alive, being here on Fair Isle, and so we do different things - a walk up Malcolm's Head or off in a yoal perhaps. These 'God-given days' are special."


The community of Fair Isle commisioned Alastair Stout to write the work  for the Classic Fair Isle Festival held on the island during August 2002. Funds were provided for by the Awards for All Programme (involving the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Scottish Arts Council, SportsScotland and the National Lottery Charities Board), the Shetland Arts Trust, the Shetland Islands Council (Department of Education and Community Services), the Kenneth Leighton Trust and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, as well as through local events.

'Given Days' was premiered in the Fair Isle Community Hall on 23rd August 2002 conducted by the composer. The professional performers were Stuart King (Clarinets), Evgeny Chebykin (Horn), Emily Davies (Violin), Clare O'Connell (Cello) and Andy Ross (Baritone). The amateur performers were the Fair Isle choir, members of the Shetland Choral Society and a folk group of local musicians. The piece is in three parts and lasts for approximately 30 minutes.

Given Days

Sounds of Fair Isle

The music

The first part is an introduction to the island, describing its location and physical and social characteristics. The text is taken from the publication 'Safeguarding our Heritage' by NJ Riddiford but also quotes related passages from historical and local sources. These are narrated over an accompaniment from the professional quartet whose music parallels the beam of a lighthouse as it sweeps an unknown void. Gradually the light illuminates objects making them clearer and more familiar - like seeing the detail of Fair Isle growing increasingly well defined as you sail towards it from Sumburgh Head.

Throughout the movement the chorus play bell-like instruments leading up to the ringing of an actual bell. As the island church's bells signify a calling together to worship, so to this bell spells a musical calling together - that the Fair Isle story is about to begin.

The second and third parts are structured around the seasons - natural, familiar phenomenon which directly influence the island's life.

The second part deals with Summer, Autumn and Winter and the third part, with Spring.

The majority of the second part is for baritone and quartet, though the chorus sing a short song each season (to either introduce the season or emphasise the baritone's text). The folk band also play towards the end of the movement (off stage or in a corner) superimposed on the baritone solo. The baritone's text is a new piece, inspired by the poems and stories of the islanders, written by the librettist Jonathon Lennie.

The three seasons are used as a broad parallel to a journey from the sea to the home. The baritone depicts the journey and descibes the activities that occur on the island during these seasons.

Summer - coming ashore with the catch - maritime themes such as the sinking of the El Gran Grifon, and the Fishing Hands.

Autumn - walking towards home through the harvested fields - hay making - crafts (violins, yoles, weaving, stained glass, silverware, knitting, etc).

Winter - arriving home - protected from the elements - music - dancing.

Modernisation is also gradually introduced through the seasons. Summer is the 'old' traditioanl way of life. Autumn shows the introduction of machinery and Winter brings the electric lights...Winter the bleakest month, also deals with the question: what is the island's future? Will the children return? The problems of over-fishing - the future of the natural balance in such a small island world.

From the bleak Winter month, which poses serious questions regarding the future of the island, the final movement deals with Spring - resurgence - awakening after darkness - new life - new year - growth - This part is for the quartet and chorus and sets texts by the island's school children. These texts consist of words which they associate with 'Fair Isle Music' and which when read, create both simple, beautiful descriptions but also surreal, dramatic images. Both of these sum up, for the composer, the sights and sounds of the isle in the purest possible way. The 'youthful' text demonstrates that the island does have a future and that even though some of the younger generation leave the island, it is a central part of their thoughts, character and hearts. The music is based around the passacaglia (variations over a constantly revolving theme) paralleling both the cyclic nature of the seaons and also the various cycles of island life. The chorus parts punctuate the quartet's music which is upbeat, fresh and exciting, anticipating the next chapter.


"Absolutely marvellous...a great deal more important than all the premieres at the Proms in London because it has actually come from the people, ...because it's of the sea, of the earth."

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Kt., CBE, patron of Classic Fair Isle.

Some text used in the music score...

Verses from "Gyaain ta da Eela" by Christine De Luca

Packin up wir proil, we'd mak fur hom,

blyde o kent lichts. We'd row

peerie wyes, owsin as we göd.

Abön wis, tirricks flitin

an a mird o maas laavin an divin,

plötin fur muggies.


We'd tak da boat on a flowin tide,

dicht an shoard her, dan rin hom prood

i da darkenin wi a fraacht o fish.

We'd aet wir supper

tae tales o uncan Odysseys

in idder voes.


  • The musical score for 'Given Days' is also available as a pdf download on the above website.

If you would like a copy of the 'Given Days' CD please contact Alastair Stout via his above website.


Text and musical score Copyright Alastair Stout.

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