A tour of Skye during Down’s Syndrome Awareness Week to challenge stereotypes

A pair of young musicians from the Isle of Skye and Edinburgh will use the joy of music to help end stereotypes and break down barriers for people with Down’s Syndrome.

Ester Strachan, a fiddle player from Skye, and Magnus Turpie, a button box player from Edinburgh, who both have Down’s Syndrome, embark on a tour of the island this month to perform in a number of schools, day centres and village halls as part of Down Syndrome Awareness Week, which runs from 18th to 24th March.

They will be accompanied by Ester’s sister, Skye accordionist Iseabail Strachan and guitarist Dominic Blaikie from Edinburgh, and together hope the music and craic will raise awareness and promote inclusion.

The tour is funded by Tasgadh Small Grants for Traditional Arts Fund administered by Fèisean nan Gàidheal and funded by Creative Scotland and National Lottery. The musicians are also being sponsored by Don’t Screen Us Out, a group of over 17,000 people with Down’s syndrome, their families and supporters who are actively working to build a United Kingdom where people with Down’s syndrome are equally valued and have an equal chance of being born.

Ester and Iseabail have been playing music together for many years. They held their first ever online ‘Ester & Iseabail’s Kitchen Cèilidh’ in 2020 for World Down Syndrome Day live on Facebook and have been holding regular events ever since. They are often found at their local folk club in Breakish, and have played together at many cèilidhs and concerts. Ester is a member of this year’s Fèis Rois Inclusive Cèilidh Trail and is looking forward to joining a band and playing at various venues in the summer of 2024.

Ester said: “There are around 47,000 people with Down’s Syndrome in the UK and many of us live happy, independent lives. The law discriminates against us and currently 90% of babies found to have Down’s Syndrome are aborted. Magnus and I have faced barriers throughout our lives, including getting involved in traditional music, but we want attitudes to change and we want to have the same opportunities as everyone else.”

Magnus comes to Skye fresh from a performance with his band The Magnus Turpie Combo at Celtic Connections Battle of the Bands 2024 held at the Drygate, Glasgow. He has performaned at sessions and at public and private events since 2017.

In 2023, Magnus piloted Pathways programmes for both Live Music Now Scotland and Fèis Rois, both of which organisations have recognised the under-representation of people with additional support needs in their programmes. He is also a composer and is looking forward to playing his famous tune, Magnus’ Polka for Skye audiences.

Ester and Magnus have played at sessions together in the last few years, but this will be the first  time they have had the opportunity to perform and tour together with Iseabail and Dominic.

Ester added: “I can’t wait to go on tour. We are looking forward to seeing lots of different people and playing music for them. The theme of WDSD2024 is End the Stereotypes, and this is what we want to do.

The group will play a concert on Monday 18th March at 11am at Tigh na Drochaid Resource Centre in Portree which is open to all. On Thursday 21st March, their tour culminates in a performance at Ester and Iseabail’s local hall Talla Bhreacais in Breakish at 2.15pm, with guest appearances from local performers including Kyleakin Connections, the centre Ester attends. This event will later be broadcast on Ester & Iseabail’s Kitchen Ceilidh page.

Entry is on a Pay What You Feel basis. Any profits made on the day will go towards covering the costs of the events and the tour of schools and other groups and venues in Skye, and to providing more opportunities for inclusive music making in Skye and Lochalsh in the future.