Barga School of Traditional Music , Dance and Song – 2016.
Cairdeas Nam Piobairean, Hamish Moore’s organisation, The Fellowship of Pipers, prepares to host the 2016 school in The Conservatorio di San Elizabetta in Barga Vechia between the 17th and 24th September.
Hamish founded a similar school, Ceolas, in the heartland of Gaelic culture on the island of South Uist in 1996.
The coined word Ceolas is a combination of two Gaelic words, Ceol – music, and eolas – understanding.
So what of Barga and the school here ?
The Barga school was founded on the same principals as Ceolas and I will outline the historical background here.
Firstly, the school will eschew the typically held view of Scottish culture, a parody of itself, a romantically driven and politically motivated creation.
Over at least the last 250 years, social, political and religious forces damaged and or changed Scotland’s culture to such an extent that by the middle of the 20th century much had been lost or changed beyond recognition, leaving only unrecognisable remnants which came to be generally regarded but misrepresented as a true perspective of Scottish culture.
The fragments of the older culture were held on to in the geographical and social fringes of the country e.g. the Gaelic singing of The Western Isles and parts of The West Highlands, The fiddle playing of Shetland and Orkney, the Doric singing of the north east and Angus, the ballads of the Borders and on the social fringes, in the traditional singing and in some cases piping, passed on orally from generation to generation by the travelers of Scotland.
Much of what was left has been rescued and saved as a result of “The Folk Revival” which started evolving in the middle of the 20th century. One of the key figures in this vital process was Hamish Henderson, an academic, poet, author, song writer and literary scholar who lectured and worked in The University of Edinburgh’s School of Scottish Studies for most of his life. Hamish went out to these geographical and social fringes documenting and recording as much of this precious material as was possible. It is now permanently held in the archives of The School of Scottish Studies for the Nation.
The most extreme example, in my mind at least, of a geographical fringe is the isolated island of Cape Breton in the province of Nova Scotia in eastern Canada where, as a result of the infamous Highland Clearances, hundreds of thousands of Gaelic speaking highlanders settled at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries. There were in fact 150,000 native Gaelic speakers in Cape Breton by the middle of the 19th century.
Their isolation, their faith, the hostile environment they encountered and their love of their culture were all factors in them holding on tenaciously to, and celebrating, their precious language, music, song and dance that they had brought from the Highlands of Scotland.
They preserved a fiddle and piping style, orally learned which is in complete sympathy with the rhythms and tempi of their hard shoe percussive step dance. Current research demonstrates irrefutably and corroboratively that these styles of dance and music existed in Scotland. Pat Ballantyne, one of our tutors at The Barga School, has recently completed a PhD thesis on this very subject. I am delighted, and it is a particular privilege, to welcome to the school, two of our Cape Breton cousins, Derrick Cameron who will be teaching guitar accompaniment to traditional music and his wife Melody who will be teaching Step Dance and fiddle.