Item Posted: Wednesday 15th March, 2006


Mark Morpurgo

Music in the Community with Mark Morpurgo

Project Number One : Fèis Rois

Fèis Rois’ 21st Birthday

Fèis Rois has been described as the ‘Jewel in the crown of the Fèis movement’, and was the winner of the Hands up for Trad Award for Community Project of the Year in 2004.

Originally focused in the Ullapool area, over 20 years Fèis Rois has extended its educational programme to include rural primary schools in the Western Isles and inner city schools in the central belt. Last year more than 200 workshops touched the lives of 9000 children. Involvement in the Blas festival provided Gaelic song and music to every primary school in Ross-shire.

The reality behind these impressive figures is, as always, a band of tutors and enthusiastic organisers who recognize the importance of maintaining and fostering inherent Scottish Highland culture. Rita Hunter has been the driving force and inspiration behind the movement since its inception, and was herself a finalist in the BBC Radio Scotland Personality of the Year Award in 2004: ‘Rita Hunter
never stops bringing new ideas to the traditional music world. She's been at the centre of the resurgence and her ‘teaching to performance’ portfolio ensures sure that we are constantly getting new talent emerging on the scene.’

Their Traditional Musicians in Schools Scheme serve as a very good introduction to Traditional Music, especially for the many areas throughout Scotland who have had little, if any, traditional music education. An important additional part of the scheme is to work closely with local authorities, cultural co-ordinators and primaries to identify development possibilities. The TMIS workshops provided by Fèis Rois give children the opportunity to experience top-quality traditional music, and feature performances of lively traditional pieces, with the children being introduced to new instruments and musical terms throughout. A song or dance is always taught and schools are left with a resource pack to encourage follow-on activity.

A junior Fèis takes place in Ullapool in the Easter school holidays. It is a wide-ranging residential tuition festival, for primary school children, where participants receive high quality tuition in accordion, ceòl agus spòrs, chanter/pipes, drama, drumming, fiddle, Gaelic singing, guitar, harp, Highland dancing, step and cèilidh dancing, tin whistle, creative writing and photograph collage. This year Fèis Rois celebrates its 21st birthday and the special Easter event will showcase tutors who were all originally Fèis Rois participants themselves. In the end this is what it all should be about – one generation passing on their skills and enthusiasm to the next, who, in their turn, take on the role of passing on the tradition.

Fiona Dalgety, once a participant and now a tutor, had her fiddle skills honed by Fèis Rois told me ‘ I doubt if I would have learnt Gaelic if it had not been for my involvement in the group. Fèis Rois has also acted as a template, and as an example, for other groups throughout Scotland. They give performance opportunities to masses of people who would otherwise not have the experience of being on stage.’

The all important teenage group of players are covered by a 5-day residential tuition festival for teenagers in October. Fèis Rois is the first Fèis to provide a festival for this very important age group and a huge impact has been made with over 170 participants attending from all over Scotland.

Adults are not ignored. A three day weekend in May is devoted to a traditional cultural experience, with extremely high quality tuition from a pool of expert, highly renowned tutors.

Fèis Rois also pioneered the ‘Ceilidh Trail’ project, which has now been adopted by many other areas of Scotland. There are now summer trails in Lochaber, Skye, Sutherland and Inverness. For young players throughout Scotland the Cèilidh Trail is an exceptional learning and performing opportunity. Young musicians (16-22) first spend a week rehearsing and training. They learn how to set up a PA system, dance calling, and set arrangements – and then it is onto the road! A month of learning and playing in a wide range of venues give young players a steep learning curve of the fun (and the rigours) of being on tour. The group then reconvenes for the Blas festival in September. Competition for these places is hot, so do find out more if you know someone who might be interested!

Increasingly Fèis Rois players are involved at events throughout Scotland. They held their own performance with 25 teenage participants at Celtic Connections as part of the Young Tradition series and coordinated a large group of students who had the one off opportunity of playing as part of Donald Shaw’s Harvest in 2004 to open Celtic Connections, and then were invited back again in 2005. Playing with a galaxy of stars such as Aidan O’Rorke, Michael McGoldrick and Charlie McKerron must have been an extraordinary experience.

This cd should do well not just amongst the huge support base that Fèis Rois have built up, but also amongst those who want to hear fresh and young talent at its best.
Fèis Rois has established for 20 years as the main development organisation for promotion of Gaelic music and culture in Ross and Cromarty, has gathered forty seven of the finest teenage solo musicians and groups together on a compilation album of traditional and contemporary Highland music. The album combines solo and groups pieces and those familiar with the Fèis Rois Cèilidh Trail which entertain thousands of people each summer in Ross-Shire will be delighted with the many rich tracks from the group.

Fèis Rois manager Rita Hunter says, “This is a vibrant and exciting album which captures a taste of everything Fèis Rois has to offer such as our year-round weekly classes, monthly master classes, teenage groupwork, Summer Cèilidh Trail and of course our ever popular Senior Fèis, which reached its’ highest ever attendance level this year. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our 20th Anniversary than with this heart warming album.”

Charlie McKerron has also been heavily involved by producing a cd with Fèis Rois. Showcasing 47 of their students and tutors this cd deserves a place in the collection of any traditional music enthusiast. Charlie was certainly impressed by the quality of play “This CD showcases the wealth of talent coming through today and leaves me with no worried about the future of Scottish traditional music.”

Among the talented young Highlanders featured on the album are rising fiddle star Graham Mackenzie from Inverness who was the youngest ever winner of a Celtic Connections Danny Kyle Award and Dingwall’s very own Katie Mackenzie, who is currently studying Scottish Music at the RSAMD in Glasgow, leads the way with Gaelic song. The album also features music from Fèis Rois’ sell out Celtic Connections concert in 2005 with a special guest appearance from former Fèis Rois participant and current winner of the BBC Young Folk Musician of the Year; Lauren MacColl.

Many of their events are open to players from outside their area. For more information, and a free newsletter contact 01349 862600 or www.musicscotland.com/feisrois

We would like to hear from groups, however large or small, who would like to publicise their project through this column.

Mark Morpurgo can be contacted at mark@morvenlodge.co.uk

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