A Caper Down Under

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By Rachel Davis

As a musician, this career can take you to places you never expect, at the very last minute. The latest edition of this in my life happened to me back in May, when I had the great opportunity (thanks to the Celtic Colours International Festival) to travel to Australia with my fellow musician Maxim Cormier, for two weeks of adventure, music, and meeting wonderful new people. The process of finding out, and actually jetting off to Oz was a bit of a whirlwind, but it didn’t take long to relax with some great musicians and start exploring and playing tunes!

The part that sticks in my mind the most about the trip would have to be collaborating for two days with Australian and Scottish musicians on a beautiful piece of music written by John Somerville, which would be performed at the National Celtic Festival in Portarlington. This was something brand new to me – I’ve never been involved in this type of “Celtic orchestra” before, and it amazed me how quickly so many parts came together. With such a wide variety of instruments, and so many melody and harmony parts coming together, it was wonderful to watch all of these roles come together, and so quickly. The piece was written by John for the voyage of the ship Hector, which traveled from Scotland to Nova Scotia (where I’m from) and came above terrible conditions to make it to Canada. Some folks would later leave Nova Scotia and head for Australia, proving there’s more of a connection with all of our countries than many of us realized. It was amazing to listen to everything come together, and perform it at the festival.

From playing tunes, to running around the rainy streets of Melbourne looking for restaurants, to spotting kangaroos along the Great Ocean Road, to listening to wicked bands in Portarlington, we had some great times over our short two week visit to Australia, but we made the most of it. Hanging out with the wonderful group of musicians from Feis Rois in Scotland was a blast, and we quickly found out from doing a couple of gigs together in Melbourne that we had quite a few tunes in common. Our fiddle style in Cape Breton came about from Scottish immigrants settling on the Island hundreds of years ago, so it’s only right that we we’d have a few that we all knew They’re all such wonderful people, along with our wonderful Cape Breton Aussie friend Jack, and I can’t wait until they all come to visit for our Celtic Colours Festival in October!

Exchanges like this are an incredible opportunity for us as musicians. Not only do you get to visit beautiful places like Australia (a place you may never get to visit otherwise), but you meet wonderful people, perform at lovely venues like our acoustic shows at the National Celtic Festival, and find new connections you have with other countries that you may not have realized before. It’s always amazing to me that our music on Cape Breton Island can make it so far around the world and be enjoyed by so many, but there was plenty of CB representation in Australia for the Festival, with myself and Max, and Dawn & Margie Beaton’s band. It was quite a treat to watch a room full of Australians dancing Cape Breton square sets!

I was so glad to be asked to be involved with this exchange project. It was a great opportunity to share music with great new friends, and I can’t wait to do it all again in Cape Breton!

A Caper in Cromarty

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By Maxim Cormier

This year, I've been very fortunate to get to take part in this great new partnership, travelling in June 2014 to Australia for the National Celtic Festival. My stay down under started with a week in Melbourne, where I got to work on and perform John Somerville's new piece of music "The Voyage of The Hector"; a Multi-movement suite of music commissioned by Fèis Rois to celebrate the voyage of the Hector - a boat that sailed from Ullapool, in Wester Ross, to Pictou, Nova Scotia in 1773 carrying over 200 people from the Highlands and Islands - as well as the 15th anniversary of the Ceilidh Trail project and the year of homecoming in Scotland. The piece was premiered at the National Celtic Festival, where I also got to do several duo performances with Cape Breton fiddler, Rachel Davis. On August 5th, I'll perform "The Voyage of The Hector" at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with a different group of musicians. Then, in October, we'll take this piece of music to Celtic Colours in Cape Breton to perform it there, where so many emigrants from that time settled, with local young musicians.

I'm really excited to show the people from home what I've been up to this summer! It's been an amazing experience to collaborate with musicians from Australia and Scotland on such a project. I've made connections with many like-minded people; maybe some more music will come out of these friendships in the future!

Fèis Rois's Ceilidh Trail projects gives young musicians the opportunity to come together and do a 5 week tour. This year, being the 15th anniversary of the Ceilidh Trail, Fèis Rois has put together a special touring group called the the Commonwealth Trail, which comprises a lucky Canadian (guess who!) and Jack Wilson, a fiddle and piano player from Australia. Our touring schedule includes the Cambridge Folk Festival, the Calendonian Club in London, events during the Commonwealth Games such as the launch of the Glasgow 2014 media centre and a Gaelic Arts showcase hosted by Creative Scotland the Edinburgh Fringe, and visiting the Western Isles of Lewis and Harris, to name but a few stops along the way. The Ceilidh Trail is a truly amazing project; I really wish we had something similar at home to encourage more young Cape Bretoners to get involved in traditional music.

July 14-18 was our 'training week' for the Ceilidh Trail - 18 young musicians from across Scotland (and myself and Jack) spent a week rehearsing and taking workshops at the Old Brewery in Cromarty on the Black Isle just north of Inverness. On July 14th, I met the other members of my Trail: Charlie Grey, Lucie Hendry, Josie Duncan, Micheal Steele and I had already met Jack Wilson in Australia. By July 18th, we were expected to have two 45 minute concert sets ready, be able to play for a 3 hour ceilidh and be comfortable setting up and operating a PA system. It seemed a bit overwhelming at first, but these 5 musicians are extremely talented and keen to get this project together. It's been an absolute blast to learn a bunch of new music with them.

I can't wait to see more of this lovely country.

First Four Weeks at Fèis Rois!

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So I'm four weeks into my internship at Fèis Rois here in Dingwall, Scotland. It's hard to believe that it was over a month ago now that the National Celtic Festival was in full swing and the gang from Scotland and Canada were Australia! The time has flown by.

I jumped straight in the deep end in my first week, end-of-year concerts for the after school classes in Ullapool and Evanton, a board meeting and a trip to Skye in addition a full week of work. Fiona and the Fèis Rois team have been so welcoming, helping me to get a grasp of the broad range of projects and programs Fèis Rois runs around Scotland.

In my time at the Fèis Rois office, I've been reviewing the organisation’s Gaelic Language Policy, looking to develop a strategic plan to strengthen our work in promoting the Gaelic language and encouraging its use at Fèis Rois into the future. I have also been working on an upcoming Gaelic immersion fèis weekend for university students across Scotland, which allows fluent speakers to come together to hang out, speak Gaelic and take workshops in Gaelic song, drama, step dance and group work.

I spent the week last week down in the Central Belt, looking at language planning in these urban settings, where many of the country's Gaelic speakers are concentrated. I had the amazing opportunity to work with the Gaelic Officers at the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, Fiona Dunn and Bria Mason, looking at the various programs they run at the universities and discussing the writing and implementation of Gaelic Language Plans. I was also lucky to meet Linda NicLeòid, the Arts and Culture Development Officer at An Lòchran, an organisation which works to develop and promote Gaelic arts and culture in Glasgow and engage with the city's large Gaelic community. After having read so much on the topic, it was a treat to see the theory in practice, and to discuss language planning issues in the Scottish context.

As the launch of Fèis Rois' Ceilidh Trails approaches, I've been assisting in the preparation for the program, particularly with media and publicity. A number of other fèisean also have Ceilidh Trail programs for young musicians over the summer. These programs play an important role in Gaelic language promotion; in addition to its role in young musicians’ professional development and growing Scotland’s cultural tourism, it is a great way to showcase Gaelic language and culture on a national scale.

There's also been time for fun - as all work does make Jack a dull boy. I got to witness my first ever Shinty match - a brutal mixture between hockey, hurling and lacrosse - at Bugh Park in Inverness, I've had a few tunes and drinks around town and during my time down in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

This Friday Maxim Cormier from Cape Breton Island and myself will be joining local young musicians from Fèis Rois to perform for the arrival of the Queen's Baton Relay in Dingwall, Ross-Shire. The training week for the Ceilidh Trail starts on Monday in beautiful Cromarty on the Black Isle, just north of Inverness. Things are really gearing up!


Fèis Rois visits Australia

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 By Siannie Moodie

I come from Conon Bridge in the Scottish Highlands. I have played music with Fèis Rois since I was wee, about 8 or 9, and started learning the clarsach at the Feis Rois weekly instrument classes when the Feis loaned me one of their harps. For the summers of 2010, ’11 and ’12, I took part in the local 'Fèis Rois Ceilidh Trail' which toured around the county of Ross-Shire playing traditional and modern Scottish music to tourists and locals alike. Since then, I have continued my involvement with the Fèis by teaching younger members, through gigs with the Fèis agency and playing at a few Feis concerts.

In Melbourne, we had some great concerts, such as performing at Arts Centre Melbourne in support of the Heartstrings Quartet and the Immigration Museum, as well as playing for the children at North Fitrzroy Primary, and working the camera in a Viking-themed photo shoots (yes, Viking, you read correctly) We spent a weekend in workshops with about 30 young Australian trad musicians learning a wonderful new piece of music composed by the Scottish musician, John Somerville. It was very rewarding to learn his piece with some extremely talented local Celtic and folk musicians. I think we all formed a special bond, flung together, as we were, with one common goal, which was to learn and perform an exciting new piece of traditional music. I have learned and played clarsach with Fèis Rois for a number of years now and had some great opportunities, of which visiting Australia must be one of the most incredible. It was very interesting to meet other young musicians from around the world who also played the type of music I learned through Fèis Rois. I think that they would also enjoy and benefit from Fèis Rois-type initiatives and opportunities to support their talent. It might add a new dimension to an already expanding wealth of Celtic music opportunities available to young people in Australia. Therefore, it is very exciting to hear that the Fèis Rois Ceilidh Trail Model might be developed for Australia, and I would love to hear more about how it is coming on! And of course, if anyone wants any help and needs someone flown out to help in any capacity, I won’t say no ;)

After Melbourne, some very knowledgeable drivers (I now know a little of the history of Philips Bay and a little more about the colonization of the south coast of Australia, very interesting indeed!) drove us to Portarlington, a town that reminded me rather a lot of Ramsay Street in Neighbours. They kindly dropped us off with generous supplies of delicious cakes to our snazzy house to rest and practice for the National Celtic Music Festival... I. Love. This. Festival. I have played at Belladrum, Orkney Folk, Cambridge Folk and the Hebridean Celtic Music festivals, and been to a couple of others, and I can honestly say it was one of the friendliest and welcoming festivals of the lot. I didn’t see as many of the other acts as I would have liked, but the line up looked eclectic yet well thought out, and the audiences really informed about celtic music in general. Saying that, I did get a couple of, “oh look, an Irish celtic harp,” rather than a “oh look, a Scottish clarsach,” but I get that at home too, so I can’t complain. Nonetheless, it was a privilege to see and session with (!!), in particular, the Beaton Sisters, Tolka, Barrule and the Mae Trio in such a welcoming and intimate atmosphere.

It was a joy to watch the other acts, and play music with them, and it was also a joy to play to the audience! They were very forgiving of our attempts at the Australian accent, and I think rather enjoyed our enthusiasm for all-things Aussie. I can only hope that they enjoyed the music too, their reaction seemed positive both while we were on stage (clapping along to the music etc.) and when we were off (coming over to chat and ask about CDs). I had good chats with members of the audience who were intrigued to see harps played in the Scottishy way I play. It was also wonderful to have conversations with people who had strong links with Scotland, and I think they enjoyed hearing more about the places, music and culture that their family and friends came from. The festival all in all had a very welcoming, warm and friendly vibe, from the both the performers and the audience, and THANK YOU so much everyone for letting me be a part of it.

We were in Australia on a musical exchange, but it wasn’t all “work” (but then, who said playing music was work?), Jack, Una and the other lovely Australians organised some pretty awesome experiences for us Highlanders. One of my fave experiences has to be the Aussie Rules Footy... Oh my goodness, it was so exciting! At first, we just enjoyed the surroundings and rated the players - in terms of looks, of course - but Jack explained the rules and it was fun to see their athleticism and mish mash of sports. Another highlight had to be the food; as a veggie I was very impressed by the choices in the restaurants. I’m talking - butternut squash, falafel, avocados, tacos, pine nuts, sweet potato, The Best sushi… a delicious mix of Autumnal goodness. Oh yes, because 20+ degrees in Australia means Autumn and keeping cozy with warming food and mulled wine; whilst 20+ in Scotland would mean summer dresses and ice cream! I also went hipster and got unusual, and some slightly regrettable, $1 dollar dresses from ‘Op Shops’, drank fancy cocktails on a rooftop bar in trendy Fitzroy, and went to Irish sessions in bars in the center of town. Melbourne was a fun and thriving place, made accessible by our lovely hosts.

The whole experience helped me grow in confidence as a performer, in all of its meanings. I progressed musically through interaction with different Celtic music styles, and through continuous playing to large audiences. A performer must also act their role, by communicating with audiences and giving them an all round positive experience, and I think Australia gave me the opportunity and confidence to do just that. Finally, by actually traveling that distance, Australia gave me a sense of that successful touring artist lifestyle, which fostered within me self-assurance of my performing abilities. Fèis Rois and the National Celtic Music Festival in Australia is an impressive and worthwhile partnership, and I just hope that future musicians will have the opportunities that I am so grateful for because of it.