Item Posted: Wednesday 15th March, 2006
This article should appear soon in 24/7 Scottish Music
MUSIC IN THE COMMUNITY
SUPPORTED BY SCOTTISHPOWER RENEWABLES
Music in the Community with Mark Morpurgo
Project Number Two : New Makers Trust
It may be axiomatic that instrumentalists write lots of new tunes, but most singers sing songs written by other people. Like all clichés there are some wonderful exceptions, but any project encouraging singers to write new songs might seem a tall order. To give non- singers, and those with little or no musical experience, the confidence to write their own songs, might seem a bridge too far!
One project which has had an extra-ordinary effect on community song writing is The New Makers Trust. Originally the project was planned to promote the writing and performance of songs rooted in the past and present life of communities in South Lanarkshire and Fife. Since 1997 over 3,500 people have attended song-writing workshops. 19 communities benefited from an increased awareness of their own area’s song writing traditions and new tunes have flowed out of schools, home and day centres, leading to a raft of performances and recordings. More than 15,000 people have attended performances, 10 cds have been produced, and most schools now have a collection of songs written by pupils. Over 150 new songs about Fife were created and a collection of over 200 Fife songs brought together.
Hard data results like these are impressive in themselves, but it is really the long term impact on participants and communities that is most important. School feedback included such comments as ‘This work has been a rewarding and stimulating experience for both staff and pupils. Some of the pupils involved have severe language and communication difficulties and by sharing ideas and focusing on their own environment I was delighted with their enthusiastic response. One child who is autistic and has difficulty in participating in group activities surprised us all by not only being part of the group, but joining in the singing. The Scottish tunes were entertaining and educational but the personal and social skills gained at the same time were an added bonus. Performing their ‘own’ songs to the parents at the Christmas service was the culmination of their efforts, and this was greatly appreciated by everyone.’
The current Trustees are Carol Laula, one of Scotland's finest contemporary songwriters: Ian Davison, stalwart of Scotland's, political songwriting scene: Scott Murray of Fife's Sangsters, Scott is a director of the TMSA: plus fine traditional singers and organisers Jack Beck and Steve Byrne - Steve organises Edinburgh's Ceilidh Culture and well known member of Malinky. Previous trustees include former TMSA organiser Elspeth Cowie, Nancy Nicolson who for several years ran the community side of Glasgow's Celtic Connections, and multi-award winning singer Karine Polwart. The Trust Convener is Lanarkshire songwriter Robin Laing, Ewan McVicar looks after the money, and the Trust Secretary is Dunfermline singer and club organiser Gifford Lind
The important long-term impact that the Trust will be hoping for is that schools and community groups will continue this process of confidence building and expand song writing and performance capabilities way beyond the workshops that have been held.. Certainly a number of groups said that the project has given organisers the skills to pass on the ideas to other groups, and a spin off benefit could well be an increased interest in local history and oral stories.
While the focus of work was on song development, a number of events have featured existing songs. The research undertaken to produce the Clydesdale Horses (Gentle Giants) CD and the Covenanters (Grassmarket Butchers) CD has included the exploration of existing songs, and encouraged a renewed interest in the part played by song in the preservation of the heritage of South Lanarkshire.
Gifford Lind, the Dunfermline singer/ songwriter, was a key influence in setting up the Trust, and has continued to be very involved in the project of songmaking in Fife, as well as organizing the Dunfermline Folk Club. He has even held song- writing workshops in Norwegian schools! He would be the first to agree that the Trust did not invent community songwriting in Scotland. Bob Pegg in Rosshire, Billy Stewart in Lanarkshire and Ewan McVicar in schools around Scotland were all active before the Trust was set up. And What the Trust did do was develop a process, and a central contact point for communities and schools, and a programme delivering song writing skills in an innovative and popular way. By co-ordinating the fund raising and organisation they have also provided a far wider programme than could have been managed by individuals just working on their own.
The Trust has now accumulated masses of experience in
• Developing new songs about life in the community
• Arranging community events where the songs can be performed
• Recording albums and books of the the songs that have been written.
The Trust’s work is by no means done, and now has a grant to develop a wider approach, and is seeking to support song writing initiatives in more communities around the whole of Scotland. They are very keen to work with, and advise, any groups who might be thinking of a song writing project. If your community group, day centre, or school would be interested why not get in touch?
Whatever you do, though, check out their web site for the range of cds which they have produced. One of these The Gentle Giants, available on Greentrax, is a collection of songs on the specific subject of the 'gentle giants' - Clydesdale horses - sadly no longer part of the rural scene. But you are sure to find at least one that you would want to add to your collection.
More information on the Trust can be found on www.newmakerstrust.org.uk or by contacting Gifford Lind on 01383 729673.
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 email@example.com