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University students create new music and video to celebrate community land ownership

Some of the students on the remote collaboration.
Some of the students on the remote collaboration.

The impact of community empowerment in Scotland has inspired students to produce a musical and visual celebration of local land ownership.

The university musicians were set the challenge to create a new piece of work to capture the land reform movement.

That movement has seen communities from the Outer Hebrides to the Borders take control of areas where they live and work.

Community Land Scotland (CLS) commissioned it last year to mark its 10th anniversary.

Community ownership

The result is ‘Tìr ar sinnsearan’ (‘Land of our Kin’), created by students on the University of the Highlands and Islands BA (Hons) applied music course.

Many traditional tunes recall emigration or land eviction.

But the new work focuses on the movement that now sees places like Eigg, Gigha and Knoydart run by residents.

Community-owned land covers more than 560,000 acres in Scotland and is home to tens of thousands of people.

A report last year called for more land reform. 

Students working remotely across Europe during lockdown put together the music.

Zdenka Mlynarikova, originally from Slovakia but now studying in Shetland, composed the lyrics and melody.

She also sang on the track with Eilidh Macintyre and Leona MacAulay, alongside musicians Marit Schoepel, Emilia Marienfeld, Anna-Wendy Stevenson and Liam Sutherland who was also the recording engineer.

Creative collaboration

The song includes the lines ‘Uninvited, you sat at our table. But we now claim it back for our own. Our children will play, where their ancestors reigned.

‘We fight for our right to remain.’

And the chorus says ‘Let us with both hands grasp freedom. Standing as tall as the hill.

‘People united together. On land which belongs to us still.’

The video features community-owned land at Machrihanish airbase, Carloway Estate in Lewis, South Uist Estate, West Harris, North West Mull, Bridgend Farmhouse in Edinburgh and the Midsteeple Quarter in Dumfries.

The musicians also speak about working together and what they learned about the benefits of community land ownership.

Zdenka Mlynarikova wrote the song lyrics and melody

Zdenka said: “Community land ownership is a good thing because we will leave something for future generations.”

Liam Sutherland, originally from Caithness, added: “We were tasked with doing some research on Community Land Scotland and what that meant to us.

“It was a nice taste of working in the commercial world.”

Professional musicians, educators and industry experts deliver the BA (Hons) course.

It covers traditional, Celtic, pop, jazz, classical and rock music.

The course uses a blend of online, video-conferenced and face-to-face teaching.

Top award for music course lecturers

As the new work is released, a national award has been given to course lecturers for their teaching excellence.

They have received a Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence from higher education charity Advance HE.

The award recognises collaborative work that has had a demonstrable impact on teaching and learning, highlighting teamwork.

In addition, the students awarded the course 100% in the National Student Survey for the third consecutive year.

Prof Todd Walker welcomed a major award for university music lecturers

Anna-Wendy Stevenson, programme leader for the music degree, said: “Collaboration is central to all our lives, as educators and members of society. It is a core skill within our subject area of music.

“It is wonderful to celebrate our work with the prestigious collaborative award for teaching excellence and have our team recognised for their passion in developing and connecting the many communities we serve through higher education.”

Lews Castle College UHI principal Sue Macfarlane said: “These awards and feedback from our students show the hard work and dedication that our staff have provided for our students throughout the pandemic.”

Commitment to excellence

Professor Todd Walker, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of the Highlands and Islands, also welcomed the award.

“The awards are held in high regard in the sector.

“They demonstrate our commitment to excellence in learning and teaching.

“It’s fantastic to be commended for the impact our colleagues are having on our students.”

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