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 Goulay
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.