Scottish traditional music for tomorrow
Two traditional music education schemes in the West of Scotland
Scotland's young folk music seems vibrant, and part of this is definitely due to the nurturing of young talent. Scotland's Highlands and Islands region is an area rich of traditions that have survived until today; it is also a region with a large proportion of Gaelic speakers. It seems an obvious place to looking after the future of traditional music. During a Highlands and Islands holiday, I came across young musicians from two high profile education facilities for trad music: Plockton High School and Lews Castle College. Reason enough to find out more...
Plockton is a small remote village close to the Isle of Skye, by-passed by many tourists, while being popular with artists for its pituresque charme in its waterside location. Who would think that this sleepy village's high school is a National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music?
The "Centre of Excellence" term has been overused in the UK in recent years, and has been used for facilities which are just above-average, yet far from outstanding. From what I heard of four musicians from the school, Plockton High School indeed offers excellence in traditional music.
The school offers teenage Scottish traditional musicians to develop their talent to its full potential, by offering a programme combining standard secondary school educational curriculum with a minimum of 10 hours a week of top quality traditional music study. It offers top class tuition in pipes, fiddle, accordion, clÓrsach, piano, guitar, whistle, flute and both Gaelic and Scots song, as well as professional quality recording experience and high profile performances. Entry is by audition, and any secondary school age pupil resident in Scotland can apply. The Centre provides an all-round, in-depth experience of all aspects of Scottish traditional music.
The National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music was established at Plockton High School in May 2000 with funding from the Scottish Executive's Excellence Fund and Highland Council. The director of the school is well-known musician Dougie Pincock, and the school has a range of high profile resident and guest tutors.
The four musicians of Plockton High School that I saw called themselves for the evening "Crooked Billy No Maids", playing as support act to Cliar and Altan in Portree. Two girls and two boys, presenting traditional music of the highest quality, on accordion, fiddles, pipes, guitar, along with some attractive singing. I could have listened to these four musicians the whole evening, forgetting about Cliar and Altan. The music was close to perfect, played with heart and soul. The performance, in particular the announcements, were a bit unprofessional, yet apart from that, this is a band full of potential - no doubt we will hear more of these talented musicians in the future!
While Plockton offers secondary school music education, the Lews Castle College offers further education in one-year full-time courses. As on the Western Isles, home to the highest concentration of Gaelic speakers anywhere in the world, traditional music is closely interwoven with the Gaelic language, the courses combine tuition in music and in Gaelic language. The courses are rooted in the strong tradition of the Western Isles, yet they also provide the opportunity to learn and work with the tools of the 21st century. Courses are offered at two levels, allowing to obtain a Further Education Diploma in Gaelic Language and Music, or, for the more advanced musicians, a Higher National Certificate in Music Performance. The Diploma course is suitable for beginners in Scottish Gaelic and Music.
Part of the course also features live performances and the recording of a CD. While I was visiting the Isle of Harris, the students were just on a mini tour of the Western Isles. They picked one of the most haunting and fascinating venues for their concert in Harris that the Western Isles have on offer: Rodel Church, the only reminaing medieval church on the islands. This stone building is packed with history and full of the atmosphere of the long gone past, recalling the times when the MacLeod clan had its base in the today tiny village of Rodel, before relocating to Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye. This ancient church does not have any electrical light, so that candles provided the only source of light later in the evening.
The concert brought together some of the college tutors and students, showcasing the wide range of music being taught in the college. Tutors for the concert included Dr Will Lamb, the head of the course, and Iain MacDonald, the great piper and flautist well known from the Battlefield Band times. Iain started off both halves of the concert with the Highland Bagpipes, which were drowning in the ears of the audience in the confined space of this little church - and it did not help that he had to tune for minutes his instrument! After this intro, the ears were ringing for the next qarter of an hour, not allowing to fully appreciate the quiet music that followed.
The music was a range of traditional Scottish music, mixed with a few tunes from other parts of the world. Personal highlights were the Gaelic songs performed by the group of students, as well as the Canadian fiddle tunes played by one of the students. It was very obvious that the concert brought together different levels of musicianship, it was at times obvious that some of these musicians were still very much learning their trade, and were not quite ready for a professional concert. Other, more advanced, students showed a very high level of musicianship. Instruments that were heard during the evening included smallpipes, fiddles, flute, whistle, cello, mandolin, and Gaelic as well as Scots singing. Overall, it was an enjoyable evening, and it was heart warming to see the efforts being put into traditional music educaction today.
Both Plockton Centre of Excellence and the Lews Castle College have brought out CDs with music recorded by their students. While FolkWorld has a copy of a CD of the Lews Castle College (reviewed in this issues), I would be most interested to hear what Plockton students have produced on their CD.
For further information, you can visit the following websites:
www.musicplockton.org and www.lew.uhi.ac.uk/learningcentres/benbecula
Photo Credit: All photos by Michael Moll
(1) an ancient fiddler in Rodel Church; (2) and (3) Students from Plockton High School perfroming in Portree; (4) and (6) students and tutors of Lews Castle College in Rodel Church; (5) Ian MacDonald in Rodel Church
All material published in FolkWorld is © The Author via FolkWorld. Storage for private use is allowed and welcome. Reviews and extracts of up to 200 words may be freely quoted and reproduced, if source and author are acknowledged. For any other reproduction please ask the Editors for permission. Although any external links from FolkWorld are chosen with greatest care, FolkWorld and its editors do not take any responsibility for the content of the linked external websites.