John Gourlay

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John Gourlay

Flute and Violin

A delicately poised duo for Flute and Violin

Scottish Music Centre

John Gourlay

Viola and Guitar

A tongue-in-cheek duo making reference to the larger-scale Stone Stories

Scottish Music Centre

John Gourlay


Fresh from the St. Magnus Festival 2015, a dynamic quintet for flute/piccolo, bass clarinet, violin, viola and 'cello.

Scottish Music Centre

Scottish Music Centre
John Gourlay

Much of John Gourlay's music is available from the Scottish Music Centre.

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Contact John Gourlay by email

About John Gourlay.

John Gourlay was born and educated in Edinburgh, training and working as a music teacher before spending three years in York studying the music of Luciano Berio.

As a lecturer at Glasgow Arts Centre (1983-92) he developed an interest in jazz education and, returning to school teaching, set up the Strathclyde Arts Centre Jazz Band and Workshop (1986-1999), tutored on the first National Youth Orchestra of Scotland jazz courses (1992-2005) and with Fife Youth Jazz Orchestra (1999-2005).

His compositions include chamber music, music for wind band and orchestra, charts for jazz orchestra and pieces for educational use. Several jazz charts were written for and premiered by the Strathclyde band and Persephone, Right On Spring and Meat On The Bone were premiered by the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland.

In 1999 John moved to Fife to take up the post of Principal Teacher of Music at Dunfermline High School, retiring in 2010. He remains involved in music education and also plays oboe and cor anglais in Kirkcaldy Orchestral Society and other groups.

His involvement as a tutor with Fife Youth Jazz Orchestra led to premieres of Oh Laugh! and Snowdrop with Joe Temperley. In 2006 FYJO commissioned a number of pieces for its 30th anniversary and Soliloquy was included in the celebratory CD, featuring former Dunfermline High pupil Kim Macari on trumpet.

John also wrote music for class work and school groups and events, including his school wind band; one of these pieces was Sir Patrick Spens, written for former pupil and trombonist Martha Ann Brookes in 2006. Henryson Fables for Fife Youth Concert Band and Explico Algunas Cosas for Fife Youth Orchestra had taken John's music outside jazz groups and the school in 2005 and two years later the Avison String Ensemble gave several performances of his Suite For Strings.

This began a period of orchestral composition and in 2008 Fife Youth Orchestra gave four performances of Labyrinth which John had written for his bassist son Calum. In 2010 the Avison Strings expanded to AvisonPlus and included the orchestral version of A Playford Suite in their first repertoire. Kirkcaldy Orchestral Society gave the premiere of Postcards From Scotland in 2012 and played the first complete performance of A Symphony Of Seasons in March 2013.

In 2001, John was runner-up in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra's iCompose competition with The Vision Of The Sermon, a chamber music piece inspired by Paul Gauguin's painting of the same name.

The Viola/Guitar duo April Randall and Stephen Morrison asked John to write a piece for them to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe 2013. Stone Stories was played twice in St Andrew and St George's, George Street and further performances have been given in St Andrews, Dundee and Kirkcaldy.

April Randall Viola April Randall Viola Stephen Morrison Guitar  Stephen Morrison Guitar
To listen to a recording of Stone Stories click here

Following this, neighbours Vincent Gray and Hugh Walker requested a piece for them to play at Fife Festival of Music in 2014 and the first performance of Grisaille was given by the Rose Street Players (Vincent Gray, violin and Hugh Walker, piano) in the Family and Friends class.

John Gourlay current projects

To listen to a recording of Grisaille click here

John Gourlay was one of ten composers selected to participate in the Scottish Music Centre Composition Marathon 2014 on 8-9 March. At the reception breakfast on the first day, he was allocated the very fine Maxwell Quartet as his partner group. Starting at 9.30am John composed a five-minute string quartet There Is No Road (inspired by a poem by Antonio Machado) and completed it with the parts printed shortly before 9.30pm. On the following day, there were rehearsals at The Arches culminating in premiere performances of all ten compositions. The concert was recorded and will be on soundcloud in due course. John found the experience very frightening but immensely stimulating. The quartet was great to work with and seeing and hearing the other composers' work developing was fascinating.

John was attracted to the story of the slave Joseph Knight through the novel of James Robertson and was inspired to compose a work for orchestra. The project gained an additional strand with the creative contribution of Eoghan McKenzie, a primary school pupil with cerebral palsy. With the assistance of Erik Knussen, Eoghan composed digital music which dovetailed with John's composition. The joint work was premiered in Kirkcaldy in March 2014 with a repeat performance at Eoghan's primary school in Cupar.

            John Gourlay current projectsJohn Gourlay current projects
John Gourlay with James Robertson,           Eoghan McKenzie
  Click here to listen to the live recording from St Columba's RC Primary School

Dunfermline musician Vincent Gray organized a concert of music by John and other Scottish composers in February 2015 at the Edinburgh Society of Musicians. Chiaroscuro, Stone Stories and Grisaille were given an airing along with two new pieces, Aquarelle and Lithoglyph.

Ballad - John Gourlay
Martha Ann Brookes - Trombone

Click here to listen on Soundcloud
Recorded at Dunfermline High School 17th March 2015. Recording engineer Richard Alexander.
When Martha Ann Brookes accepted the orchestra's invitation to play Sir Patrick Spens with Kirkcaldy Orchestral Society it was thought that it could accompany a new companion piece. The composer returned to the vast treasury of our culture in the ancient ballads and was attracted to the account of the 1388 Battle of Otterbourne between the Scottish Douglas and English Percy families. Couching this encounter of two bands of armed thugs in terms of medieval chivalry, the ballad was always a favourite. The Elizabethan poet Philip Sidney said that it moved his heart more that a trumpet call and on his deathbed Walter Scott was said to have quoted its best known line, "My wound is deep, I fain would sleep." However, whilst working on the piece the composer decided to move it away from a programmatic character into the realm of abstract instrumental music. So the listener may well detect echoes of a battle, the demise of a protagonist, a trumpet call or even the line given above, but that is up to the listener.

Sally Beamish and Alasdair Nicolson welcome participants.
St Magnus Composers' Course June 2015

John was one of eight composers participating in the 2015 St. Magnus Composers' Course in Orkney, 13-24 June, directed by composers Alasdair Nicolson and Sally Beamish. The main task was to write a piece of music for an ensemble from The Assembly Project (a flexible group directed by Alasdair Nicolson) of flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet, violin, viola and cello. As instructed, John began the piece before the course commenced and completed it during his first week in Orkney under the supervision of the professional composers and with the chance to experiment with the quintet. This meant many re-writes and late nights, but the resulting "Nocturnes" was chosen to end the concert of new works in St. Magnus Cathedral, the culmination of the course. Each composer was partnered with one of the eight students on the Conductors' Course for this, the final days of the course being spent in joint preparation. John's conductor was Adrian Sit from Hong Kong. In addition, the composers had to compose a short vocal piece for a workshop with The Marian Ensemble who were performing at the St. Magnus International Festival. John wrote a setting of an Edwin Muir poem, "One Foot In Eden", for SATB which, after a few adjustments, seemed to have gone down well. One surprise task was to write a piece for cello in response to a randomly allocated poem by students on the Orkney Writers' Course. John was given part of a poem by Kate Rambridge on the subject of a singing blackbird. It turned out that the cellist Clea Friend (part of the quintet from The Assembly Project) was happy to speak and also sing for these pieces, so John's "Blackbird" also included recitation and the singing of the word 'Alleluia'. The eight pieces were workshopped by composers and poets and performed in Stromness as part of the festival (accompanied by tea and cakes!). All in all this was a highly stimulating experience which included the learning of skills that will be put into practice in John's future compositions. Watch this space!

Ruth Morley, Tom Hunter and Robert Irvine ready to start.

Noisy Night with the Red Note Ensemble

John made his first submission for a 'Noisy Night' this month. These are regular events run by the Red Note Ensemble where new pieces by 8-10 composers are performed at something akin to an open-mic night.

John's Orpheus Dreams was selected to be performed at the thirtieth Noisy Night on Friday 23 October 2015 which formed part of the Sound Festival of new music in Aberdeen. He chose to write for the maximum scoring of flute (selecting alto flute), vibraphone and cello with the performers Ruth Morley, Tom Hunter and Robert Irvine respectively.

Eight new compositions received their first performances before a substantial and lively audience, including one that required additional players from the audience and in which John played oboe. There was also the regular 10-minute Composers' Challenge in which everyone is given the allotted time to write something new with the 'winner' being given a performance. In the event, two pieces were played, but John didn't make the final cut.

Orpheus Dreams was the final piece of the evening and was given an excellent performance by the trio, expertly directed by John Harris.

The next Noisy Night is at Summerhall in Edinburgh on 30 November 2015. The maximum scoring is for accordion, trumpet and cello.

More information is available at

Noisy Night February 2016
A new composition of John's was selected for performance at the Red Note Noisy Night on Monday 1 February at Summerhall, Edinburgh. These evenings are designed to give composers performance opportunities, often with unusual ensembles. The performers were Ruth Morley (flute), Jackie Shave (violin) and John Kenny (trombone) who gave an excellent performance of the piece. This is John's second Noisy Night; the first was last October at the Sound Festival in Aberdeen.

Another Noisy Night
The Red Note Ensemble held a Noisy Night in the bar of the Byre Theatre, St Andrews on Friday 26 February at which John's 'Solstice' for clarinet, violin and cello was premièred. The players were Marie Lloyd (clarinet), Nicolas Miribel (violin) and Robert Irvine (cello).

The new compositions were all strong pieces; John particularly liked 'Tango Camp' by Hilario Flores Coni (an Argentinian conductor and composer currently studying in Glasgow), 'Motivic Games' by Armando Lobo (a Brazilian composer studying Edinburgh) and Italian Marco Longo's 'Exploration II'.

At the interval the audience were, as usual, invited to take part in the 10-Minute Composer's Challenge. This involves writing a piece of any kind in any notation; "no previous experience required - in fact it's always better if you don't know what you're doing". One or two of the resulting compositions are then selected for performance by that evening's ensemble. As luck would have it, John's effort was one of the two pieces chosen and was played just before the performance of 'Solstice'.

Noisy Night at St Andrews Noisy Night at St Andrews
Warming up and Rehearsal

Five Joan Eardley Pictures

I have just completed a new eight-minute piece for clarinet, horn and cello which will be premièred by Kirkcaldy Orchestral Society players Stuart Smith, Andreas Morrison and Katie O'Neil in April 2016.

The music is a response to five paintings by Joan Eardley (1921-63), all of which are in the collection of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh.

1. Street Kids (1949-51)
2. Seeded Grasses and Daisies (1960)
3. The Wave (1961)
4. Children and Chalked Wall No. 3 (1963)
5. Catterline in Winter (1963)

The concert is at the Old Kirk, Kirkcaldy at 7.30pm on Tuesday 26 April. Admission is £5 at the door. The programme also includes Bach's double violin concerto, music by contemporary composers Philip Cashian and Philip Venables and two pieces from this year's KOS Composition Project.

Kirkcaldy Orchestra Society Composition Project 2015-16

KOS Comp 1
The Composers

In school session 2014-15 Kirkcaldy Orchestral Society piloted a new composition project where member and composer John Gourlay worked with six pupils in two Fife secondary schools. From August to March John visited on a regular basis to mentor the young composers and the project culminated in performances of the six pieces by members of the orchestra.

Following this success, KOS decided to continue the project in 2015-16. This time John worked with seven pupils from Auchmuty, Balwearie and Inverkeithing High Schools, guiding them through music composition as part of their Advanced Higher Music folio.

On 21st March 2016 at an evening event held at Inverkeithing High School, the composers heard their works performed by members of KOS. Family and friends were present for these world premières, an 'open rehearsal' followed by a performance and recording.

Composers often only receive one performance of a piece, but two of the compositions, Matthew Kennedy's 'Rising Dawn' and Vivienne Reijnen's 'Serpent's Dream' are getting a second hearing. KOS - Extra: Music of Two Eras will include them in a programme that also features a new piece, 'Five Joan Eardley Pictures', by the composition project leader, John Gourlay.

KOS Comp 2
The Composers and Performers

Visit Kirkcaldy Orchestral Society

Satie Reconstitué


I had the opportunity of submitting pieces for an event to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of phonometrician and gymnopedist Érik Satie, born 17 May 1866. This event, Satie Reconstitué, was organised by composer Jolon Dixon and hosted by the Edinburgh Public Music Library where it took place on Tuesday 17 May.

Sixteen very short works by fifteen composers were presented to a sell-out audience including my Mr. Satty in Embra (M Satie à Edimbourg) and Phonometrical Nightmare. The performers were players from the Composers' Orchestra, an ensemble associated with Edinburgh University; Kirsty Ball (flute), Margaret Christie (oboe/cor anglais), Hebe James (clarinets/saxophone), Erin Whalley (bassoon) and Aphrodite Kathmeridon (violin).

Kirkcaldy Orchestral Society Composition Project 2017-18

Now in its fourth year, John is leading the Kirkcaldy Orchestral Society project which aims to develop
musical composition with Fife school pupils. The project provides additional support for pupils
composing for SQA folios at Higher and Advanced Higher level and to arrange for rehearsal and live
performance of the resulting pieces.

A dozen members of the orchestra have volunteered to be the players for this music and six young composers
from Madras College, St. Andrews, and Woodmill High School, Dunfermline, have selected a combination
of these instruments for their work. Isobel Grieve, Katie Grieve, Bartholomew Upton, Becky Campbell,
Adam Emslie and James Miller are now completing the first drafts of their compositions.

All are working under the guidance of composer and orchestra member John Gourlay and with the support
of the Principal Teachers Lynne Miller at Madras College and Ellen Bogie at Woodmill High School.
The culmination of the project will be a live performance and recording of all six pieces by members
of the orchestra on 20th March in the Old Kirk, Kirkcaldy, Variation 5.

The performance and recording of the 2017-18 KOS Schools Composition Project took place on Tuesday 20 March at Kirkcaldy Old Kirk.
The programme was as follows -

La Nuit de la Danse Becky Campbell Woodmill High School

The Romanov Steppes Katie Grieve Madras College

The Winds of Experimentation James Miller Woodmill High School

The Journey Bartholomew Upton Madras College

Honestly, I can't think of anything Adam Emslie Woodmill High School

Natural Selection Isobel Grieve Madras College

The players were -
Lynne Bulmer - flute, Stuart Smith - clarinet
Vincent Gray, Margot Miller & Jenny Bain - violin
Susan Keith & Graeme Wilson - viola
Katie O'Neil &Abi Pearson- cello
Lorna Henry - double bass
Directed by John Gourlay


December saw two premières of compositions by John at the winter concerts of Kirkcaldy Orchestral Society.

Onze Noëls Après Charpentier is a modern arrangement for orchestra of eleven traditional carols used by
Marc-Antoine Charpentier in his Messe de Minuit pour Noël performed on Christmas Eve in the early 1690s.
The Langtoun Singers (directed by Ella Wilson) gave the first performances of This Child for women's voices
and piano. John composed the music and wrote the words for this new carol.

The orchestra (directed by Graeme Wilson) also played arrangements of Purcell's Rondeau from 'Abdelazer'
and We Wish You A Merry Christmas and were joined by the choir and audience for new arrangements of
Four Traditional Carols (The Sussex Carol, Away In A Manger, Good King Wenceslas and Adeste Fideles).
All these pieces featured in two concerts given on Sunday 17 December at Kirkcaldy Old Kirk.

No hay camino

John recently entered an orchestral piece, "No hay camino" in The Alvarez
Chamber Orchestra "As You Like It" Composition Competition 2016/17.
Although the piece wasn't selected for the final prize-winners, the
adjudicators made some very complimentary comments,
"No hay camino is a vivid work, well orchestrated and
full of well judged contrast."

To listen to No hay camino click here
To hire the piece for performance please email John directly.
Click here to email John

KOS at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Eardley Players Eardley Players

Following the performance of Five Joan Eardley Pictures and other pieces at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, Kirkcaldy Orchestral Society players repeated some of the programme at the KOS – Extra concert. Vincent Gray and Lynne Bulmer performed Aquarelle, Stephen Morrison and April Randall reprised Lithoglyph and Stuart Smith and Katie O’Neil premiered Impasto. All these pieces had been chosen for the Edinburgh concert because of their visual art connections.

Eardley Players

Five Joan Eardley Pictures
Eardley Players

John Gourlay plays oboe and cor anglais in Kirkcaldy Orchestral Society and regularly writes for the group. Last year he penned Five Joan Eardley Pictures for a trio of clarinet, horn and cello, premièred at a KOS concert in Kirkcaldy in April 2016 by Stuart Smith, Andreas Morrison and Katie O'Neil. This composition is being repeated in connection with the current exhibition of Joan Eardley's work, A Sense of Place, at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Modern Two in Belford Road. The five sections of the piece are responses to five paintings byJoan Eardley (1921-63), all of which are in the collection of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh.

1. Street Kids (1949-51)
2. Seeded Grasses and Daisies (1960)
3. The Wave (1961)
4. Children and Chalked Wall No. 3 (1963)
5. Catterline in Winter (1963)

The performance will take place in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Queen Street, Edinburgh from 6.00-6.30pm on Thursday 27 April 2017. Players from the orchestra will also present three of John's duets with visual art connections, Aquarelle, Lithoglyph and Impasto.

To listen to Five Joan Eardley Pictures click here

Edinburgh University Composers' Orchestra

'Now fades the glimmering landscape' was premièred and recorded by this orchestra on 24 November 2016 in the Reid Concert Hall, Edinburgh. This composition is written in an 'open score format' of five parts and optional percussion, the distribution of parts depending on the make-up of the ensemble. The inspiration is the second stanza of Gray's Elegy - "Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight, And all the air a solemn stillness holds."

To listen to 'Now fades the glimmering landscape' click here.

St Magnus Festival - Hebrides Ensemble & Max

hebrides Ensemble

I was commissioned to a new piece for the Hebrides Ensemble to perform at the St Magnus Festival in a programme that reflected a concert in the first festival, celebrated ensemble's 25th anniversary and was a tribute to the festival's founder, Peter Maxwell Davies.

Yann Ghiro (clarinet), Zoe Beyers (violin), William Conway (cello) and Philip Moore (piano) gave the première of Midsummer Sunrise in St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall on Thursday 23 June 2016. The Guardian described the piece as being "full of spry and urgent sounds" and the Scotsman said that it was - "bold and angular, yet melismatic and mysterious - a hugely striking piece from a Scottish composer who should be heard more often."

The concert was recorded by the BBC for broadcast on Radio 3 and the first part (which includes Midsummer Sunrise) is scheduled for Tuesday 5 July at 1.00pm.

Click to see Festival Programme page

Guitar Selection Box

Guitarist Stephen Morrison is giving a recital at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August. In the year of Shakespeare's 400th legacy celebration, the programme will include the première of my solo guitar piece Seven Ages, inspired by Jacques' speech in As You Like It and dedicated to Stephen.

The Seven Ages of Man was already an established formula when Shakespeare gave it form in As You Like It, likening our worldly existence to that of actors in a play. We are first introduced to the infant in arms who grows into the scholar creeping unwillingly to school. We then meet the lugubrious lover who in turn becomes the swaggering soldier. The fifth stage of corpulent middle age is followed by the shrinking into old age and finally the return to the second childishness that precedes the end.

The rest of the programme is an indulgently refreshing, mix of luxuriant guitar music. Spanning two centuries; from the birth of the six string guitar to the present day, masterworks from 19th century Europe to South America will be performed on a beautifully restored period instrument and a uniquely designed modern instrument. This recital is equally matched by the acoustical environment of the venue church; elegant and refined.

To listen to Seven Ages click here
 Stephen Morrison Guitar
Stephen Morrison
Recorded at St Andrew's and St George's West Church, 13 George Street, Edinburgh 17 August 2016

The Paddok And The Mous
  • The-Paddok-Title
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Jane Atkins Viola, Alison Green Bassoon
Scottish Chamber Orchestra Musicians
Jane Atkins Viola, Alison Green Bassoon

The Paddok And The Mous
Following a call for scores in a joint venture by St. Andrews Music Centre and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, fifteen pieces were submitted. Four new pieces for viola and bassoon selected for a workshop in St. Andrews on Tuesday 16 February, one of which was John's 'The Paddok and the Mous'. The players, Jane Atkins (viola), Alison Green (bassoon) of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and composer Tom Harrold selected John's piece for inclusion in a concert at The Byre Theatre the following day. 'The Paddok And The Mous' and pieces by Mozart, Tom Harrold and Eddie McGuire formed the programme of the early evening recital at the Byre Theatre.


Kirkcaldy Orchestral Society Composition Project 2016-17

Now in its third session, this project is a unique idea in action in the community, combining learning and creativity with practical and professional input. Beath High School and St Columba's High School are involved this session, each selecting three young composers who will compose a piece of music for three instruments selected from volunteers from the orchestra.

I will visit both schools on a regular basis from August - February and the culmination of the project is a performance and recording of all the compositions before an audience of teachers, family and friends in March 2017.

London Contemporary Chamber Orchestra
This amateur group workshopped ten selected pieces on 5 March in Herne Hill, London. My composition, 'The Weaving Midnight Moon', was one of those selected and I travelled to London for the event. (All three of my children live in London and my wife was able to enjoy Mothers Day with the family the following day.) Each piece was played through and the players then asked questions and gave their views on the composition and its presentation. After the workshop, there was a seminar about score presentation for amateur players whilst the members of the orchestra voted on which to include in their autumn concert. I was very pleased that my composition was one of those selected; Alan Taylor conducted the première at the church of St George The Martyr in Borough High Street, London on 1 October 2016. In December Matt Dilley recorded the orchestra playing the piece.
Click here to listen to The Weaving Midnight Moon
Click to visit the London Contemporary Chamber Orchestra