The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) has a Traditional Music program and Josh Dickson, an Alaskan, heads the department. I had the pleasure of meeting Josh at the Conservatoire and appreciate the time he took to talk with me about the Traditional Music program and how he came to live in Scotland. Josh grew up in Anchorage and learned to play the Scottish pipes in a local pipe band in which his father played. In 1992 Josh traveled to Scotland where he received a MA in Scottish Gaelic at the University of Aberdeen and completed his doctoral studies in the history of the piping tradition of the southern Outer Hebrides at the University of Edinburgh.
The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is the only university in the UK, which offers a Bachelor of Music degree dedicated to traditional and folk music in these principal studies:
Because Scottish music is traditionally taught by ear, students applying for this program do not need to know how to read music to be considered for entry, but once they are a student at RCS they do learn to read music as an equal skill to ear-learning. read music. Over the course of this four-year degree program, students also take courses in music theory, arrangement, composition, research skills and teaching in a range of environments.
Josh likened the approach of the traditional music program to the term, "Dig Where You Stand" which is the idea of understanding self first by unpacking who your are and from where you came before branching out to the wider world. Josh admits that this approach counters those of most university programs, which start broadly and then progress to more focused and specialized coursework, but feels it better aligns and supports students entering this discipline. We talked about the parallels between Gaelic and Native Alaskan music: both taught by ear and considered an integral part of daily life. Josh shared the tradition of the Waulking Song, which are Scottish folks song traditionally sung in Gaelic by women cleaning the cloth to make it fuller (waulking). As a group, the women improvised a song while rhythmically beating the cloth to soften it.
Josh invited me to the Conservatoireʼs Friday afternoon Sang Scuil/Sgoil nan Oran, which is Scots and Gaelic for "Song School." There students sing traditional songs from many cultures. I shared a song in Tlingit to give them an opportunity to hear and sing this beautiful language.
Thank you, Josh, Corrina Hewat, and all of the singers for welcoming me. I look forward to hearing you perform this spring.
In an earlier post, I shared experiences of why People Make Glasgow and am reminded of this cityʼs theme on a daily basis. Whether a stranger stranger striking up a friendly conversation while in the grocery line or a passenger on the bus helping me understand how to purchase bus tickets, every person with whom Iʼve come in contact has a generous and friendly spirit, which is quite uncommon for a city this size (1.2 million or the most densely populated city in Scotland).
The location of the mural in the photo above has great significance to the people of Glasgow. According to this article in Glasgow Live, the mural "looms over the much-loved Clutha pub, where 10 people tragically lost their lives when a police helicopter crashed into the roof in November 2013. The mural not only hails one of the city's greatest legends, but will serve as a constant reminder of Glasgow's community spirit – one which can never be dampened even in the darkest of hours."
Yes. The arts play a vital role in the well-being of this cityʼs residents.
I was thrilled to share Glasgow with my Fulbright colleagues and friends, Keith Thompson and Shana Ferguson, during Robbie Burns weekend. Robbie Burns was born January 25, 1759 and is considered the national poet of Scotland. Burns wrote in the Scots language before it was popular to do so in literary circles and helped preserve hundreds of Scottish folk tunes and lyrics handed down aurally over the centuries by collecting and recording them. He also was a prolific songwriter and adapted the words of old Scottish folk songs. Although he is often attributed to writing Auld Lang Syne, he collected the songʼs first verse, adapted it and then wrote the remaining three. Burns Night is treated much like a national day where Burns poems are recited, his songs sung and his famous poem, "Address to a Haggis" is recited before the ceremonial haggis is cut.
Shana had found a most fitting location to celebrate Burnsʼ Night: Britannia Panopticon, the worldʼs oldest surviving Music Hall! I had taken a tour of this hidden gem earlier in the week as part of Celtic Connections. Opened in 1859, the Panopticon hosted some of the biggest names on the music hall circuit, including Stan Laurel, who made his first stage appearance there as part of an amateur night in 1906. Robbie Burns Night festivities reflected the spirit of this hall with music, song, comedy and the traditional end of the night singing Auld Lang Syne.
On Sunday we toured The Hunterian on the University of Glasgow campus before treating ourselves to Afternoon Tea at the Willow Tea Rooms, inspired by the works of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who sadly died penniless in 1928.
Our weekend ended with this chance encounter of the Street Orchestra Live performing outside Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. According to their website, their mission is to "take orchestral music to everyone, anywhere" by giving free performances in public spaces and "is committed to providing concerts for communities with little or no opportunity to hear live music." Check them out on Facebook.
“If the primary aim of music education is to help foster creation of the student’s self-identity, then informal learning is not only a good way to learn, it is the ideal way to learn” (Jenkins, 2011, pp. 194-5). As a music teacher and director of an El Sistema-inspired program focused on student empowerment, leadership and citizenship through music ensemble, this quote from Jenkins (2011) sparked my curiosity. If informal learning plays an invaluable role in a child’s education, why is this type of learning often absent from the school classroom? Can a school music classroom include informal learning as part of its learning environment?
As part of my Fulbright research, I am exploring the concept of informal learning through many different pathways. One of these paths has been through Dr. Theriaultʼs Informal Education course at the University of Strathclyde. According to Dr. Theriault there are three different approaches to education:
With the impact of the internet and social media on studentsʼ lives, informal learning aligns well with the environment of todayʼs learner and can be a solution for meaningful change within learning institutions. According to Beckett and Hager (as cited in Jenkins, 2011) information learning has six key features: organic/holistic, contextual, activity- and experienced-based, arises when learning is not the main aim, activated by individual learners (not by teachers), and often collaborative.
Lucy Greenʼs (2005) informal learning pedagogy is one of the reasons why I hoped to earn a Fulbright scholarship to study in the United Kingdom because this informal approach provides classically trained instrumental and classroom music teachers (i.e. me) with practical tools to successfully integrate informal practices of popular musicians into their teaching. According to Green (2013), “Informal approaches tend to involve a particularly deep integration of listening, performing, improvising, and composing throughout the learning process” (p. viii). Musical Futures was founded on Green’s model, which encourages student-driven learning, collaboration, and group performance. Through self-teaching and providing a relevant social context, Musical Futures helps students develop their musical identity and gives them an equal voice in the classroom (Wright, 2014). This March I will have the opportunity to take Musical Futuresʼ trainings and observe programming at Musical Futures Champion Schools throughout England.
In closing I want to thank Dr. Theriault for her friendship. She has met with me on a weekly basis and put me in touch with university staff and community members who could support me in my research.
Green, L. (2013). Hear, listen, play!: How to free your studentsʼ aural improvisation, and performance skills. Oxford: University Press.
Green, L. (2005). The music curriculum as lived experience: Children's “natural” music-learning processes. Music Educators Journal,
Jenkins, P. (2011). Formal and informal music educational practices. Philosophy of Music Education Review, 19(2), 179-197.
Wright, R. (2014). The Fourth Sociology and Music Education: Towards a Sociology of Integration. Action, Criticism & Theory for Music
The Celtic Connections Festival also sponsors talks throughout the community. I attended one talk featuring Vox Liminis and its Distant Voices project, which uses the power of songwriting to "write and record songs that express and challenge the ways we think and feel about crime, punishment and reintegration." Scottish songwriters team with people who have some connection with criminal justice system including:
As part of the Q&A, an audience member asked, "Is Reintegration made easier by letting go of your story through this songwriting process?" The response was multi-faceted. Often songs explain the why things happened, which can often be about just one bad mistake. Others shared that we are not defined by just one story. Sometimes the story is cornered by the system and songwriting allows you to tell the story in a different way or tell a different chapter in oneʼs life.
Distant Voice debuted its most recent album, Not Known at This Address, as part of the Celtic Connections festival. Here is one of the songs, Frankieʼs Song.
What better way to understand the benefits of informal and non-formal learning than to experience it first-hand. This is one reason why I registered for mandolin and fiddle group lessons through the Glasgow Fiddle Workshop (GFW). Using traditional Scottish music, GFW offers group lessons for a variety of musical instruments, including fiddle, accordion, mandolin, guitar, banjo, bodhran, whislte, harmonica, small pipes and song. The other reason why Iʼm taking lessons at GFW is that I want to feel part of a community in Glasgow and playing music together always opens that door for me. The other reason is that I want to feel part of a community here and playing music together always opens that door for me.
The first night of classes teamed with enthusiasts - many of whom had taken a "Try Your Hand at ... " (mandolin, fiddle, accordion, harp and whistle) workshop at the Celtic Connections Festival. What was so refreshing to see that first night at GFW was the host of mature or seasoned adults in attendance. There were refreshments with a donation cup, live music playing in the background, and people chatting away. The feel in the room was welcoming, warm and inclusive.
All of the class instructors teach music by ear. According to the GFW website, "Scottish traditional music is part of an oral tradition which has been passed down over hundreds of years. Many of the tutors learned to play this way and find this method works really well when teaching groups of people. GFW are keen to preserve this tradition and have made it part of the GFW ethos." As a classically-trained pianist, I lost the confidence to improvise and create my own music because I played what was on the sheet music without deviating. Now, years later I don’t want my students to have the same experience that I had. By having the full skill set to integrate informal learning practices, I want to help students navigate both classical and popular music worlds by reading music and playing by ear; performing in an orchestra and rock band and integrating technology.
The GFW tutors encourage students to move freely among the different ability-leveled classes not only on the first night, but any night. Whatʼs most important is that learners find a learning context that suits them. Generally one or two pieces are taught each week. Students can record the tutors to help with their practice at home and can access additional repertoire on the GFW website, which includes both sheet music and an audio recording. In addition to the weekly sessions at Glasgow Kelvin College, GFW holds these sessions at local pubs: slow jams twice a month, very slow jams once a month, and more advanced sessions every Monday after class. And a half before each class on Mondays or Wednesdays, sessions are held in the commons a half hour before (see photo below).
I am looking forward to this part of my research project. Playing by ear has always terrified me, yet I know itʼs a skill that will make me a more versatile and confident musician. I canʼt think of a better place to try it. The folks at GFW are encouraging, humorous and genuinely interested in creating community through music-making. Below is a short video introducing the work of GFW.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the Creative Contexts for Learning in Music course at the University of Strathclyde for pre-service music teachers, which meets twice a week to prepare students for their remaining two school music placements, each six weeks in length. This class of twenty students welcomed me into their community, and I will miss them when they begin their placements in February. Paul Wickham, my host advisor, leads and organizes these classes. He is well-loved and respected by the class and I can see why: Paulʼs high expectations and practical knowledge are balanced by his sense of humor and constant communication. Laughter, music-making and lively discussions permeate these walls. For the past two weeks, Paul invited teaching artists from the community to share their expertise in jazz improvisation and music technology. The photo above captures the music technology session led by Craig Cuthbertson. Using online and recorded sounds, the class worked in teams to create a soundtrack for an animated short, Fugu, which is an assignment given in secondary music classes.
Alan Benzie opened the Jazz Improvisation session by inspiring us with a live performance from his jazz trio. Their newest album, Little Mysteries, recently won best album in the Scottish Jazz Awards. Here is their piece, The Warrior Who Became a Tiger.
Alan then gave a brief history of jazz: an African-American music genre originating in New Orleans with roots in blues and ragtime. Improvisation, syncopation, rhythm and call and response are some of the key elements. He then modeled how to teach these elements in the school music:
Alan then broke down an example of a New Oreans early groove known as the 2nd Line by having us clap each part of the kit drum - high hat, snare and bass drum - first in isolation and then simultaneously in three groups.
Throughout the class, I was reminded of the Lincoln Centerʼs Let Freedom Ring series, which features Wynton Marsalis and Sandra Day OʼConnor and illustrates the ideals of American democracy through the lens of jazz. In todayʼs political climate, this series is worth posting - both as a valuable resource for integrating music in the social studies curriculum and as a reminder of the principles of which our country is founded.
As part of my inquiry project, I am researching how informal learning settings support an individualʼs well-being, creativity and identity. The Celtic Connections Music Festival workshops are just such a setting where learning is intentional but less structured and take place in the local community. I participated in several workshops: Storytelling, Try Your Hand at the Whistle, Step Dancing and Body Percussion, Try Your Hand at the Mandolin, and the Big Slow Session with Nigel Gatherer.
What was so refreshing at all of these workshops was how multi-generational they were. From the get go, instructors created a culture of inclusion and belonging - everyone is a musician (which is true!) In particular, I was impressed with Nigel Gatherer who led the Big Slow Session, a menagerie of instruments including mandolin, fiddle, accordion, tin whistle, flute, ukulele, keyboard, guitar and drums. Nigel began the session by weaving his way through the group, making jokes and welcoming those who looked a bit intimidated. He then got everyoneʼs attention by saying, “My goal is for us to have fun, put a smile on your face and play music with each other at a slow, easy pace. Itʼs about learning tunes, which are easier to learn with fewer notes.”
After playing a D scale, he than asked us to take out the G and C#. We played our new scale (G pentatonic) or what Nigel termed "the magical notes that allow you to play anything. You can noodle about with these notes and we all sound good." He asked us to play the magical notes by age groups, starting from oldest to youngest, by shouting out, "Anyone 60 or above...anyone 50 and above..." until he reached those under ten. Then so as not to be too intimidating he said, “Only play if youʼre young at heart." And with a burst of laughter from the group, everyone played with enthusiasm.
Nigel then shared his secret to learning tunes: understand the structure. Most Scottish tunes have an A part (repeated) and a B part (repeated). Within each part, the tune is divided into 4 phrases of 2 measures each – of which many are repeated or change just slightly. He explained that this approach allows us to use a reduced palette to make learning by ear and remembering easier. He then launched into a group composition 2 beats at a time. He was like a chef, sprinkling bits of Part B with A to create a new B part. We then performed part A and performed the newly composed B part. At the heart of all of this, whether telling a traditional story or performing traditional music, the leaders of these workshops modeled that these art forms are meant to be altered as long as the basic structure or framework remains.
In fact in my storytelling workshop, traditional storyteller Heather Yule likened her craft to music: the theme is the melody, but you as the storyteller add grace notes, flourishes, etc. that will change each time you tell it. This sense of lightness, joy and creative spirit shone through when Heather shared her definition of a ceilidh or a social gathering with Scottish music, singing, traditional dancing and storytelling is all about: "Tell a story, sing a song, show your bum and out you go!" Oh yes, and humor also plays a big part in all of this!
When I asked Nigel if I could videotape our final piece for my students and friends back in Juneau, he and the entire grand session of musicians gladly obliged.
What I have learned as a teacher, musician, and community member is that whether dealing with historical or present trauma, the arts are a way for humans to process, express, communicate and heal from something too complex or too difficult for words. The communities of the Outer Hebridean islands have chosen many art forms to help honor the men of the Iolaire and help its community heal from this tragic loss.
January 1, 2019 marked the 100th anniversary of the shipwreck of the HMY Iolaire. Two hundred of the men died just 20 yards off shore from Stornoway harbor and the returning sailorsʼ home island of Lewis. Very little was spoken about this tragedy even though it was the UK’s worst peacetime maritime disaster since the sinking of the Titanic and left a community traumatized - dealing with the loss of a generation of men. Two musical compositions were commissioned to commemorate this disaster and I attended both as part of the Celtic Connections music festival. In preparation for the concerts, I researched the history of the Iolaire and learned that the men onboard were heading home from the end of the World War I and anxious to be with their families for the New Year.
Due to navigational error, the ship hit the rocks known as the Beasts of Holm. Even only yards away from shore, the winter seas were so harsh that men in life boats or wearing life jackets drowned. Only 79 men survived, 40 of whom were helped ashore by the heroic act of John Finlay Macleod. His local knowledge of the waters helped him strategically time his journey to shore. He knew that seven smaller waves were followed by three bigger ones. It was this third wave that carried him over the rocks to make it to shore and inspired the title of one of the commissions by Gaelic singer, Julie Fowlis, and fiddler, Duncan Chisholm: An Treas Suaile (The Third Wave).
Although there are no videos or audio of this commission, here is an example of the beautiful collaborative work that Julie Fowlis and Duncan Chisolm do:
The second commissioned work by composer, Iain Morrison and imagery by Dalziel and Scullion is titled Sal, which can mean salt, saltwater, the open sea and tears.
According to this BBC article, a public inquiry into the Iolaire lasted only two days. Many on the island felt that this tragedy contributed to future emigration from the Western Isles for over one thousand men from these islands had already died during the war.
It felt surreal watching these commissions after having just seen an Alaskan opera commemorating the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Princess Sophia when it hit the Vanderbilt Reef in the Lynn Canal in October 2018. There was little news covering this tragedy because it was overshadowed by the armistice of World War I. People wanted to hear happy news. Whether in Alaska or Scotland the people of these more isolated areas are using the arts to honor, process and heal.
Scotland was the first worldwide to designate 2018 The Year of Young People (YOYP). As part of this initiative, young people were given opportunities to participate in cultural and sporting events and make decisions on issues affecting their lives, including co-designing the YOYP program with more than 500 signed up to volunteer as YOYP Ambassadors.
Celtic Connections continued this theme throughout its 2019 winter festival. I was most inspired by the work of Fèis Rois who performed opening night. According to their website, Fèis Rois (2019) "aims to give young people and lifelong learners the opportunity to experience and enage with traditional music and Gaelic culture in a way that supports them in developing their social skills and inspires them to reach their full potential." They offer programming year-round in both formal and informal learning environments.
The project unveiled at Celtic Connections was a collaboration between two groups of young musicians from Ross-shire and acclaimed fiddler and composer Duncan Chisholm. Together they researched a local story, created a film, and composed the soundtrack. It is the kind of project I would like to bring to Juneau and JAMM where students take the lead in designing, composing and recording their work.
Another example of youth-led enquiry happened in a Health and Well-being course that I attended for preservice teachers at the Universiy of Strathclyde. The Scottish government defines health and well-being as not one single subject or class, but rather six areas integrated throughout a childʼs schooling:
Space Unlimited visited our class to model the work they do in youth-led enquiry in schools. Their approach places students in roles of leadership where they identify their own needs, generate ideas and agree upon actionable solutions to answer the question, "How can we better support young peopleʼs health and well-being?" The studentsʼ solutions to their own health and wellbeing challenges are then integrated into school improvement objectives.This 3-day process supports Scotlandʼs National Health and Wellbeing Outcome 1: "People are able to look after and improve their own health and wellbeing and live in good health for longer." Space Unlimited embeds these key principles and methodologies throughout the participatory process:
Education Scotland outlined what children should expect from a learning environment to support their health and well-being. The arts, like the Kin and Community Project above, can support many of them, including:
Making a link to my community in Juneau, this Youtube video of Arias Hoyle, a high school student from Juneau, Alaska, demonstrates how music and culture can support well-being. For example, the lyrics of his rap include "Iʼm not smoking cannibis, this is just some salmon meat" (smoked salmon that is).
One thing Iʼve learned in my one short week here is that People Make Glasgow! Voted #1 by the readers of Rough Guides as the worldʼs friendliest city, I have experienced this generous spirit at every turn. Three experiences this week deserve particular mention.
1. Glasgow Girls
My birthday was this week so I treated myself to one of my favorite things: musical theater. Through my search I found a musical called Glasgow Girls, which is based on the true story of how a Glaswegian community rallied behind seven teenagers who fought to keep their school friend and asylum-seeking family from being taken from their home and deported. Itʼs a very inspiring story. I watched the documentary before going to the show and was inspired by the strength of these young girls, the support from their school and English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, and their neighborhood who took turns keeping watch to alert asylum-seeking families when security forces were arriving. According to a BBC News report, Glasgow is one of the top five communities in the UK to take in Syrian refugees and asylum seekers relative to its population. At the theater, you could hear the pride in the applause and cheers coming from this Glaswegian audience.
2. Celtic Connections
In 2008 Glasgow was designated a UNESCO Creative City, recognized for its contribution to the field of music. Celtic Connections is testimony to this designation and is the largest winter music festival of its kind and the UKʼs premier celebration of celtic music. Over three and a half weeks, this winter festival holds 300 events, 20 venues, featuring 2,100 artists from across the globe.
The photo above is from opening night at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall featuring the Orcadian youth music project Hadhirgaan, SonDeSeu - Galician folk orchestra (the most southern member of the Celtic League) and excerpts from the Feis Rois commission, Kin & the Community. It was at this opening night where I first learned that the Scottish government designated 2018 as the Year of Young People, a global first, which provides a platform to showcase the achievements of Scotlandʼs young people. Celtic Connections extended this theme into its 2019 festival by having some of the top Celtic soloists play alongside budding young artists. More on all of this in the next blog posting. Below is a video of SonDeSeuʼs music from a 2014 concert.
3. Foundry Courtyard
So even though I had an incredible birthday celebrating it with the Glasgow Girls, I think being away from my close-knit Juneau community and Glacier Valley family hit home at the end of the week. I had a moment of forgetfulness that involved the kind folks at my dorm, Foundry Courtyard, a private hall for students attending nearby universities including University of Strathclyde, City of Glasgow College, Glasgow Caledonian College and the Royal Conservatoire of Music. Once I realized my mistake, I apologized to Layla and Bill who greet me every morning at the reception window and confessed that Iʼd been feeling a bit homesick because I usually celebrate my birthday at school, at home and with friends. Itʼs just different being so new to Glasgow. I really enjoy my flatmates - four in all - who come from Burkina Faso, Germany, India, and Scotland. We each have our own room with a bathroom, but share the kitchen space (photo above). Itʼs been a respectful and friendly living arrangement - both in my flat and the building. And I have to admit, I was more than a bit worried entering into a shared dorm space being 30 years their senior, but all was for naught. I couldnʼt have found a more convenient, affordable and welcoming place to live and recommend Foundry Courtyard in a heart beat. In fact, this is what I found waiting for me when I returned from campus that same day that I had apologized to Layla and Bill (see below). I do have a community here and yes, People Make Glasgow!
This is a personal blog, sharing my experiences living in the UK from January - June 2019 as a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching scholar. This blog is not an official site of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State. The views expressed on this site are entirely my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.