Donald Smith reflects on the recent Celtic Summer School at the Scottish Storytelling Centre
Last year TRACS (Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland) piloted a Summer School exploring Scottish culture in the round. This has now become the Celtic Summer School, running for a week, beginning on 1st August – Lammas or Lughnasadh – traditionally the first day of Harvest.
People can choose single days or individual sessions or a pattern through the week that suits their interests. We have welcomed folk from home and overseas, practitioners and student, researchers and lifelong learners. It’s an opportunity to learn and explore together, as ideas about Scotland and its place in the world evolve.
The programme embraces music, song, poetry, storytelling, dance, philosophy, fiction, archaeology, politics and ecology. ‘Celtic’ is used a broad cultural description of Scotland and its international connections. But the term also raises sharp edged questions about language, history, cultural stereotypes and future directions.
The overall purpose is creative, i.e to inform and deepen what we are all doing today. We are celebrating a ‘carrying stream’, and it is good sometimes to look into the bed of the river to see the living ecology on which our vitality depends. We may think we know but do we? Every day now brings new discoveries and perspectives. The aim is that through every topic we can see something in a new way.
Interesting angles this year included the relationship between the human voice and instrumental music, the interchange rather than opposition between Celtic and Germanic in Scotland (later seen as Highland or Lowland), the rich layering of Scotland’s dance traditions, the role of voice in Scottish novels, and the centrality of poetry to that carrying stream.
The idea of ‘Summer School’ was dreamt up by the ecologist and cultural activist Patrick Geddes in Edinburgh in the 1880s. His notion was that alongside biological life human consciousness generates its own vital energies through culture. On that depends our personal and social wellbeing. It is a human ecology always living, breathing and evolving.
On the pulse of all that are our arts of tradition, if we are open to the energy and the potential. Timing and location for Celtic Summer School will be the same next year, reminding the world, as it arrives in Edinburgh, that Scotland has its own beating heart.
Donald Smith is Director of TRACS