A week of culture and creativity at Celtic Summer School 2016

Celtic Summer School celebrated its third edition this month with eighteen fascinating sessions covering topics ranging from seasonal customs and arts & crafts to Gaelic poetry and traditional dance. Read on for a round-up of this exciting week:

Monday: Exploring the Landscape

The smells of seas, air and mountain were wafting through the sessions on day one as speakers explored Scotland’s evocative landscape. Topics included the influence of the environment on patterns of settlement and culture and the dramatic connections between landforms and mythological characters, such as the Cailleach, the Veiled One, Mother Goddess and Creator.

Neill Hargraves looked at the history and archaeology of the Celtic peoples of Europe, and Scottish culture past and present. CSS director Donald Smith described ‘Celtic’ in his opening session as a broad general term, evoking the dynamic connections between Scottish society and culture and the natural environment – a bedrock of Scottish distinctiveness.

Tuesday: Songs & Sounds

Day Two was all about listening and the ears as the music of Scotland was opened up with a treasure trove of sounds. David Francis set out the main instruments and influences in the morning programme, with live and recorded examples, while Jo Miller’s lunchtime overview on Women & Song was inspiring and passionate, revealing a wealth of little known material- and showing the importance of the unaccompanied song traditions and styles.

In the afternoon, Professor Fred Freeman’s exploration of Burns and the National Music was another tour-de-force, demonstrating the critical role of Burns’ song collecting and writing in articulating a carrying stream of Scottish Music. The session was illustrated with Freeman’s own complete recording of the songs of Robert Burns, interpreted by the cream of Scottish singing talent.

Wednesday: Breaking New Ground

Day Three found Celtic Summer School breaking new ground, both literally and metaphorically. David Mitchell opened up the turf with his exploration of wildwood ecology and its role in the evolution of Scotland, stressing the vital role of plants in our lives and the need to re-connect. In the words of Patrick Geddes, who inspired Celtic Summer School: “By leaves we live.”

In the lunchtime session, Stuart McHardy challenged myths about Scottish politics, asserting the centrality of ‘communitarian’ ideas rather than any defined political philosophy. His themes resonated with current debates, the townscape of Edinburgh, and the continuing buzz of culture and politics in the Old Town around the Netherbow.

Fred Freeman’s afternoon programme on Scots poetry and song was also rich in local references, with the songs and poetry of Allan Ramsay, Burns and others stitched together with verve and gusto – which is also how Professor Freeman puts across his knowledge and musical expertise.

Thursday: Charm & Customs 

Day Four welcomed celebrating folklorist Margaret Bennett with a wonderful introduction to lifecycle customs. Have you ever wondered why we give a silver coin to newborn babies? We learned about the romantic custom of ‘night visiting’ in Scots and Gaelic contexts, about the highly pragmatic handfast marriage arrangement and the unique and highly elaborate Gaelic betrothal custom, the Reiteach.  With songs to illustrate the session, this was a moving and highly entertaining morning!

Our lunch time session welcomed David Campbell who introduced us to the influence of power and charm in Celtic oral traditions and their contemporary renaissance in a lively session. In the afternoon, we looked to the changing of the seasons and how weather shapes our environment as Erin Farley explored Scotland’s seasonal customs: the rituals, folk dramas and beliefs have survived through the centuries. We learned about fire festivals, the weird and wonderful summer custom of the Burry man and discovered the strange Hogmanay fish custom that is associated with the citizens of Dundee. Participants took part in a rousing performance of the folk play Galoshins to end a hugely stimulating day!

Friday: From Folklore to Dance 

The faerie folk and Finn McCool were on our minds on Day Five as Donald Smith opened with a session on the Renaissance of Wonder Storytelling. From mythical creatures to gods and saints, Donald revealed the sources of some of Scotland’s best-loved stories and shared skills on how to tell them.

Next up was a session focussing on traditional dance, led by Màiri Britton, an accomplished step dancer and member of the band Huradal, who performed at TradFest 2016 to great acclaim. Mairi discussed the rich variety of Scottish traditional dance, using examples from Country, Highland, Step and Ceilidh.

Donald Smith then dipped into the treasure troves of Gaelic Poetry and Song, journeying through the romantic landscapes of the Highlands before hopping across to Scotland’s beautiful islands.

Saturday: Past, Present & Future

On the final day, Celtic Summer School looked in three directions. First it looked outwards, to the connections made across the world by emigration. This had a cultural dimension but also huge issues as regards statehood, citizenship and asylum seekers. The day then took a turn to the future as David Francis outlined on behalf of TRACS a new initiative, The People’s Parish. Giving a sneak preview of larger scale communication to come, David explained how the project will provide an inspiring framework for local culture and heritage, with an emphasis on neighbourhoods and on communities owning their own creative agendas.

Lastly, Mairi McFadyen looked back, in a richly illustrated talk, to the original inspiration for Celtic Summer School: Patrick Geddes, and to his key role in the Arts and Crafts Movement. In the words of William Morris: “The past is not dead; it is living in us and will be alive in the future we are now helping to make.” He would surely have liked The People’s Parish, which will provide practical inspiration for next year’s Summer School.

Celtic Summer School will return from 1-6 August 2017. Join our workshops mailing list to keep up-to-date with forthcoming development opportunities.