A View From Orkney's West Mainland by musician Kathie Touin Brown
In Quoyloo we are incredibly fortunate to have many talented individuals. One such is musician Kathie Touin Brown. Originally from 'across the pond', Kathie gives us her view on life in Orkney in 2020 and how she has adapted her musical schedule.
Throughout lockdown, and the easing of restrictions, there have been vast differences in how people react to isolation and various levels of confinement.
Speaking for myself, I know that if my husband and I were still living in our London flat we both would have gone slightly mad and probably ended up with one of us locked in the bathroom and refusing to come out until it was all over. Which wouldn't have worked as there was only one bathroom.
But living here in the Orkney Islands, I've been very lucky. We have nearly an acre of land, with plenty of plants, trees and flowers that need looking after, and many entertaining avian visitors, including starlings and sparrows demanding food. Swallows nested in our garage again this year and produced two broods.
Our house is perched on a hillside, with sweeping views across the interior of the island, Mainland, overlooking barley fields, pastures and lochs that change colour hourly to match the ever-changing sky.
We live within five miles of two beaches, so are able to go get an ocean fix whenever we need one, and to allow Roscoe, our rescue Border collie, a chance to dig up as much sand as he can before he exhausts himself.
So, in recent weeks Graham and I have been gradually venturing out a bit more, albeit still tentatively. We have met a friend or two outdoors, been to a few shops, and I finally relented and got my hair cut. I still haven't bothered to colour it, and going nearly six months with only myself hacking away at it and leaving the chemicals off, means it's grown surprisingly thick and wavy. I like to think the remains of the vibrant red dye mixed with the incoming grey looks like it's been done on purpose. Or so I'll keep telling myself, until I can't stand the grey any more and revert back to colouring it purple.
I know only too well that my husband and I are extremely fortunate to have enough income that, for us, the financial impact of the pandemic has been manageable. I lost roughly half of my piano students due to some not being comfortable with the idea of lessons over Skype, so that's a noticeable loss, but not a difficult one. The government's scheme to help self-employed workers has been welcome to make up some of that lost income.
My remaining students have done well with online lessons, some unexpectedly blossoming from the extra help from mums (never dads, strangely) sitting in on lessons and helping with taking notes and some of the tasks I would normally perform.
I can't see a time in the near future where I can return to face-to-face lessons. I have health problems that put me at risk, and because of the nature of piano lessons, can't teach in a socially-distanced manner. So we'll persevere for now with Skype. It isn't ideal, but it's better than nothing.
I released a new album of my music last Autumn and was looking forward to selling the CDs in local shops this season. One or two shops have re-opened and are stocking the album, but there are so few tourists, I'm not expecting much in the way of sales this year.
The album is called Facing The Falling Sky – perhaps the title was prescient considering the world in 2020.
Otherwise, this time has been intensely creative for me. I have a home recording studio and I have had some work come in that I am able to do remotely. Meanwhile, I set myself the task of familiarising myself with some of the technology I use but don't know in detail.
The best way to do this, I decided, was to write a song about how the pandemic might feel for someone struggling to cope with the experience, and to use the recording process to get to know these lesser-known parts of my studio. The track is nearly done – only the vocals tracks need finishing as I write this. I've spent many happy hours playing around creating strange noises and running them through some interesting processing effects, and discovering just what my studio can do.
Meanwhile, I have decided to close my recording studio to people coming in to record, allowing me to focus on my own music and any work that can be done remotely. I had been thinking about doing this for some time, and the pandemic seemed to decide the issue.
So I've been overhauling and refitting the studio, condensing two rooms to one. It's been very satisfying, especially changing the colour of the room from the hot candy pink it was when we moved into our home, to a calm, clear light blue that reminds me of the sea.
The last eight months have been very strange, with so many truly appalling things happening all over the world, not least in my home country of the United States.
But, speaking for myself, I have truly enjoyed stepping back, being quiet, and happily involved in my projects. I'm still anxious, but finding ways to distract the anxiety and channel it elsewhere.
I'm keenly aware that I am lucky to be in the circumstances I find myself, and feel for anyone who has found this time difficult and distressing. I hope you are able to find something new and wonderful in these times. Kathie Touin Brown
PS Please explore my music via my website – www.kathietouin.com
Thanks to Kathie for such an honest opinion of events.