Rhapsody09 review

Item Posted: Sunday 1st November, 2009

Enthusiastic full houses greeted young musicians and models in Helensburgh and Oban for two extraordinary showcase events celebrating young talent from Argyll and Bute, including a major contribution from Dunoon Grammar School.

The core of Homecoming Rhapsody was a musical reprise of Rhapsody 2007 by composer and musician Donald Shaw, arranged by John Grant, and organised by Argyll’s Creative Arts in Schools Team.

The music moved from the expansive and lyrical opening of the Dalriada suite, through lively percussion pieces based on traditional Scottish music rhythms, marches and jigs, and finished with a piece inspired by waulking songs. Rhapsody is essentially a musical poem about the landscape of Argyll, but this is a landscape filled with people, who sing soft Gaelic airs and Scots ballads, and marry their pipe music to the other, more domestic instruments of fiddle and woodwind. Thus, there was a choir, and a strong young woodwind and brass component trained by John Grant, complemented by fiddle, accordion and keyboards. And, of course, being Argyll, the pipe band played a huge part! The young performers were supported by a range of top quality professionals including Charlie McKerron, Eilidh Shaw and Maeve MacKinnon.

Like many of the best modern Scottish ‘traditional music’ composers, Donald Shaw is at the cutting edge, seeking to harmonise the orchestral possibilities associated with classical music with the excitement, vigour and lyricism of traditional music. For Rhapsody there was added to the mix elements of rock, jazz and a healthy helping of sheer fun.

A photographic montage of Argyll landscape, artefacts and people provided a visual commentary on the music. Put together by secondary school pupils under the direction of international photojournalist Colin McPherson, the photo display avoided the prevalent ‘tartan and shortbread’ image too commonly used, and made an attractive yet sometimes gritty addition to the music, without in any way being a distraction.

The second half was an exuberant fashion and accessories show. Students designed, made and modelled colourful outfits which were often exciting and zany. The prize for cool has to go to the two lads dressed in Irn Bru cans (you had to be there to appreciate it.) Although most of the designs are unlikely to be seen on the streets of Dunoon in the near future, the same could be said of the designs on the cat-walks of Paris. Certainly no Paris model has strutted their stuff to the wall of sound of pipes, fiddles, accordion and Scottish ‘Trad Rock’!

In his closing remarks the Lord Provost commented that this generation of school-children have wider musical opportunities than he did, with the Council committed to giving every pupil the chance of learning” the instrument of their choice”. It is important that the Council continues to foster music in the schools AND in the community, as in the end, one depends on the other.

Although I suspect that many of the audience were doting family and school friends, this type of key event can have a very real long term impact. They help break down many musical barriers – in particular showing that Scottish ‘traditional’ music is vibrant, alive and forward looking. They help develop the skills and confidence of all the youngsters involved. And, if nothing else, what must it be like for the young performers to be able to say ‘I have performed on stage with members of Session A9 and Capercaillie.’?

Among the students involved in the project from Dunoon Grammar were fiddlers Emily Goan, Chirsty MacFadyen and Alex MacKechnie, with their school and community tutor, Sarah Naylor; pipers Louise MacDonald, Ross Robinson, and Grant Gibson; concert band players Brendan Dick, Ashleigh Daw and Martha Wheatley; and models Gemma Forbes, Jessica Rennie, Nicole Grant and Sarah Lauffer

Mark Morpurgo

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