How can we make more international connections in youth trad music?

Guest blog by Charlotte Murray
It was very appropriate that this week I attended the European Forum on Music in Glasgow, hosted by the Scottish Music Centre and the European Music Council. International connections in trad music is a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately and meeting so many delegates from across Europe and across musical fields was hugely invigorating.

Guest blog by Charlotte Murray

It was very appropriate that this week I attended the European Forum on Music in Glasgow, hosted by the Scottish Music Centre and the European Music Council.  International connections in trad music is a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately and meeting so many delegates from across Europe and across musical fields was hugely invigorating. I’ve already become a fan of the European Ethno movement from JMI (a series of summerschools across Europe bringing traditional musicians together in energetic musical meetings), and have long been looking for similar opportunities for under 18s in Scotland.

This Easter Edinburgh Youth Gaitherin held its flagship event bringing around 100 young people together for trad music workshops in Tynecastle High School, Edinburgh. As well as being our 18th year (coming of age and all) we were lucky to be joined by a large group of young (mainly) Hardanger fiddlers from Voss in Norway. The buzz the visiting Norwegians brought to the Gaitherin was amazing. They came for the last 2 days, and with a bit of complicated re-arrangement we fitted the visitors into various classes so they could get to know the EYGers and learn some Scottish tunes. They had also brought some excellent tutors with them (Steinar Rygg, Margunn Nordgård and Knut Brunvoll) which meant that we could offer some special one-off Norwegian music classes, which the Edinburgh kids were really keen to join.

IMG_5904On the first evening we’d planned a session and social for the two groups after the Gaitherin. We’d arranged an free space in the Clock Cafe on Dalry Road, but we had no idea how many people would turn up. It was a little bit nail-biting actually. It would have been quite embarrassing if no-one had come. Again, however, the enthusiasm from the EYG participants was amazing. I’m not sure the Clock realised what they had let themselves in for, but they went with it. We packed out the downstairs room with about 40 young people, giving them a chance to get to know each other before bringing out the instruments. Two of our tutors, Rona Wilkie and Marit Fält (by complete coincidence we’d booked an Edinburgh-based Norwegian tutor this year) led the session with help from the Norwegian leaders. It started off slowly – one side would play something they knew, then the other side would play something of their own. Pretty soon, however, everyone was joining in and sharing tunes. 15 hardanger fiddles and a set of uilleann pipes (visitors to the Gaitherin from Ireland) all under 18 – I don’t think Edinburgh’s seen a session like it!

We finished the Gaitherin with an end-of-week concert and ceilidh, getting the opportunity to hear a fantastic performance of Norwegian music from the visitors, and learning a few of their dances too. This was an amazing experience for Edinburgh Youth Gaitherin – by the end of the 2 days the young people were making friends, they’d made new musical connections, and the excitement of the whole visit lifted the atmosphere of the event to end on a huge high. I hope the Norwegian visitors got as much out of it as we did!

IMG_6006The way it all came about seemed quite out of the blue from our end. Fiona Campbell from Northern Streams Festival put us in touch, saying this group was interested in making a trip to Edinburgh and meeting local young fiddle players to learn some music (I think a mutual contact had recommended Northern Streams to them). After quite a lot of discussion we hatched the plan to invite them to the Gaitherin. We then had to spend quite a long time working out the practicalities (would it work, them just coming for 2 days of a 4-day event?), how we would integrate them, and other things like flights and accommodation. We wanted to have the session and social, so needed a venue that we wouldn’t need to pay for. Steinar and I spent a lot of time discussing things via Facebook.

The whole experience was a challenge but well worth it. I hope we can build the connections now and perhaps form it as an exchange – make an EYG expedition to Voss. Making the first steps in establishing links with youth music groups in other countries seems big and daunting – I’m not sure if we would have done anything like this without the initial introduction from Fiona Campbell and Northern Streams. It obviously had a huge benefit for us as an organisation and for our participants.

I hope that more small trad music organisations will be inspired to do similar things, and I hope this is something we can do more of! Taking part in the European Forum on Music has definitely given me food for thought. Perhaps one day we will be able to have a fully fledged junior Ethno in Scotland.  In the meantime, Northern Streams is coming up in the last weekend of April as part of TradFest, offering many great opportunities to get immersed in Scandinavian music.

Charlotte Murray works for the Edinburgh Youth Gaitherin and Traditional Music Forum. These views are her own.