SNJO: ‘Peter and the Wolf’ in Doric (Aberdeen Jazz Festival, 18 March)

The premiere of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s version of Peter and the Wolf, translated specially into the language particular to the area, is included in the programme for Aberdeen Jazz Festival. With narration by an actor who was born and grew up in the Torry district of the city, it’s an example of jazz adapting to the community and promises to be a memorable occasion. Rob Adams reports.

The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra will enter the realm of loons and quines, rowies and bosies when it takes its adaptation of Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” to Queen’s Cross Church in Aberdeen on Saturday 18 March.

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Known as Doric, the local dialect – now actually an official language – describes men as loons and women as quines. Rowies are the Aberdeen speciality of butter rolls and a bosie is a hug. And that’s before we get into the pronunciation of Footdee, a much-loved old fishing village at the east end of Aberdeen Harbour, as “fittie”.  

Aberdeen-born actor Joyce Falconer will narrate the tale, which has been translated into Doric by the retired solicitor-turned-successful-writer Gordon Hay, as the orchestra provides a theme for each character.

Originally devised by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev as a way of introducing children to the different instruments of the symphony orchestra, “Peter and the Wolf” was first performed in Moscow in 1936.

It has since been performed dozens of times with narration by everyone from Sir John Gielgud and Sir Peter Ustinov to Sting and from Eleanor Roosevelt and Sophia Lauren to Dame Edna Everage. The late David Bowie and the Hungarian American conductor Eugene Ormandy took it into the US pop charts in 1978 and SNJO director, saxophonist Tommy Smith adapted Prokofiev’s piece for jazz orchestra in 2018.

“We initially performed and recorded it with the Leith-born actor Tam Dean Burn narrating a text in Scots by the former National Poet of Scotland, Liz Lochhead,” says Tommy Smith. “However, Scottish voices had delivered the original text before as both Sir Sean Connery and David Tennant have narrated it.”

The live premiere of the Scots version earned five-star reviews, as did the subsequent album, and the orchestra later performed the Scots version, instead of the English version, as per Liz Lochhead’s wishes, in the USA. The orchestra has also taken it to Japan, with acclaimed actor Isao Hashizume narrating in Japanese, and to Norway, where actor Jacob Andersen delivered the narrative in Norwegian.

Joyce Falconer. Publicity photo

For the Queen’s Cross Church performance, which will be part of the SNJO’s two-day residency at Aberdeen Jazz Festival, Smith decided to call on Joyce Falconer, who as well as playing the popular character Roisin on the BBC TV Scotland soap River City is an accomplished singer of traditional songs from the north-east of Scotland known as bothy ballads.

“It felt right to be honouring the local language, rather than delivering the piece in Scots or standard English,” says Smith. “Doric is a wonderfully idiosyncratic and descriptive language and as it now has official language status, having Joyce narrating Gordon’s words will give the performance a sense of authenticity. We hope local children will bring their parents along and enjoy a real Aberdeenshire story with a jazz soundtrack.

LINK: Aberdeen Jazz Festival programme

Visit Aberdeenshire’s Doric primer (includes “Foos Yer Doos?”)

Aberdeen Jazz Festival runs from 16th to 26th March. The programme includes piano-drums partnership, Sebastian Rochford & Kit Downes performing music from their new ECM album, “A Short Diary”, also in Queen’s Cross Church, and saxophonist Helena Kay playing in the historic Bon Accord Baths.

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