THERE was no curtain that fell, but as the evening drew to a close, the sound of applause died down and the standing ovation that was given faded into memory, we could all agree that A Mother’s Song: A New Folk Musical had been a triumph.

This new Scottish work had come about because of a passion for telling the stories of women and their impending motherhood, crafted into a musical which followed the ballads and traditions of Scottish music.

A Mother’s Song, created by Finn Anderson and Tania Azevedo, debuted in the Macrobert Arts Centre in Stirling at the tail end of February. The story follows Sarah, a ballad singer who cut ties with her childhood folk traditions and is now in 21st-century New York City, rediscovering the songs which take her all the way back to 17th-century Stirling, via Ulster and the Appalachian Mountains.

The National: From left to right: Stephanie MacGaraidh, Melanie Bell, Kirsty Findlay, Bethany Tennick, Blythe JandooFrom left to right: Stephanie MacGaraidh, Melanie Bell, Kirsty Findlay, Bethany Tennick, Blythe Jandoo (Image: Tommy Ga Ken Wan)

It becomes a life-changing journey across time, told through four other women all on the cusp of their own life-changing event: motherhood.

Early in the rehearsal process, I caught up with composer Anderson, and thereafter collaborator Azevedo, to explore the levels of complexity involved in such a wide-ranging show.

A Mother’s Song is a musical. We are not well-known in Scotland for musicals. This is a point not lost on either of the two of them, as Tania explained: “It feels like if it weren’t a musical, that would be a real opportunity missed.

“This is a story that couldn’t be told through any other medium, because it is all about the migrations of songs as well as ancestry. The two themes are linked.”

Finn wholeheartedly agreed: “We’ve got such a rich history of storytelling through song that’s not in the Broadway tradition. I think often people think that musicals have to be romantic, or they have to be light-hearted, but actually, you can make a musical about anything you can write a song about.”

The musical elements of the show could not have a purer pedigree, as Finn further explained their connection to the ballad tradition that principal character Sarah shall rediscover and how it all fuses: “The Scottish traditional ballads are so dramatic and so theatrical. They tell really heart-wrenching stories in their long form.

“With this show, it has been really interesting to explore the relationship between musical theatre, that craft and that art form.”

The National: Craig Hunter, Blythe Jandoo, Kirsty Findlay, Tinashe Warikandwa Craig Hunter, Blythe Jandoo, Kirsty Findlay, Tinashe Warikandwa (Image: Tommy Ga Ken Wan)

The reference to ballads reminds us this was a show sprung from Scottish tradition, but both Finn and Tania are keen not to be hidebound by it, with Finn, as composer, explaining how he came to the idea: “I was interested in the migration of music, specifically the Scottish ballads, how they travelled and are still alive in parts of the world. I think that traditional music can be seen as a thing of the past but really it is a living, breathing tradition that we can change and harness in our own way.

“There is a lot of that happening in the folk music community in Scotland but there’s not a lot of that working its way into theatre.

“We can use those traditions that don’t feel twee and don’t feel like we’re harking back to the past. We are not trying to return to a better time or be sentimental or nostalgic but really what it’s about are the traditions making them survive and why we still need them today.”

Tradition often feels marginalised because of its associations with an unyielding past, however, here it is the marginalisation of women which is also a focus, as Tania was keen to expand upon: “It does feel it is about a marginal community per se and woman can often feel like that around the issue of reproductive rights.”

Finn added, in relation to the traditions being used as a springboard, that the migration of the music was also key: “They both speak to how things have been passed down, what we have inherited and how things change over time. We combined these

two threads to tell the story that spans from the 1600s in Scotland to the present day in America; combining the passing down of songs with the shifting relationships women have to motherhood in these stories over time.”

Ultimately, however, the clear thrust is the evolution and development of a Scottish medium that has its feet firmly in the present, according to Finn: “I suppose, for me, for traditions to be living, breathing things, we have to evolve them and do new things with them and use them to tell stories that feel relevant for now”.

If anything shows relevance for our time, then it is surely in the central relationship – a queer one. Tania again was keen to explain: “We wanted to be able to have a queer relationship at its heart and it not be about queer trauma, not be about a traumatic coming out but just that families and relationships come in all sorts of configurations.”

Finn continued: “A big part of the queer side of telling a story that harnesses traditions are things which people might not always think are for them because they don’t tell the stories of their community. It’s very hard to locate gay characters in the ballads. Hopefully, this show shall create some characters that speak to that community too!”

But, as Tania explained, this was not some campaigning pitch – it was a serious addition to the genre and to the debate itself: “The importance of the diversity is that it is representative of many female experiences without it necessarily being a queer-issue musical.

“The queer storyline feels really important and links to marginalised communities.”

And so, we were promised a drama of historical power and sweep with challenge – a very Scottish thing – in a musical format which is less familiar. A Mother’s Song heartened as it did not shout but mellifluously asked its questions, the answers to which society has, perhaps, less melodiously sang in response, as it truly delivered in reminding us of what we should pass on to our next generation – making this medium the perfect choice for the story it had to tell.