Published: 16/10/2014 14:20 - Updated: 16/10/2014 14:24

Mod reprise for Leirsinn (Vision) legacy of blind musicians

The musicians of Leirsinn – from left – Fiona Kyle, Alpha Munro, Bill Taylor, Fiona J Mackenzie, Mark Thow and Fiona Cameron.
The musicians of Leirsinn – from left – Fiona Kyle, Alpha Munro, Bill Taylor, Fiona J Mackenzie, Mark Thow and Fiona Cameron.



by Margaret Chrystall

HIGHLAND musicians who play a concert at the Mod on Thursday have been invited to go to Romania early next year to inspire young visually-impaired children.

Alpha Munro, fiddle-player and leader of Ross-shire’s Kiltearn Fiddlers, put together Leirsinn – meaning ‘vision’ in Gaelic – a project to explore the music of Scots and Irish blind composers going back as far as the 17th century.

Back in May, a group of musicians – including visually-impaired players among them – played three dates in Inverness, Loch Torridon and at Foulis Castle.

This week’s performance at Eden Court will see Alpha, Poit Dhubh band members, piper Mark Thow and guitarist Fiona Cameron, Fiona Kyle on gut-stringed clarsach, steel string harp player Bill Taylor from Strathpeffer, Gaelic singer Fiona J Mackenzie from Dingwall and Tain piper Duncan McGillivray.

Now Alpha has revealed that she and two of the group have been invited to head to Romania in January.

She said: "A spin-off from the performances we did in May was an invitation for me to bring Mark and Fiona Kyle to Romania in the new year to inspire blind youngsters out there.

"The education programme is very behind there, so it’s hoped to get funding to take us out, though plans are in the very early stages."

The group will showcase compositions from the 17th century to the present-day.

And the programme includes works by Irishman Ruairi Dall O Cathain, Lewisman Ruaridh Dall MacMhuirich and Irishman Turlough O’Carolan – all three pipers.

There will also be two interpretations – first by Duncan MacGillivray on pipes, then sung by Fiona J Mackenzie of Lament For Choire An Easain by composer and piper Iain Dall Mackay,who was born in 1656.

He had been blinded by smallpox and at seven was sent to Dunvegan to become a pupil of the piping dynasty, the MacCrimmons, pipers to the MacLeods in Skye.

Alpha – who lives at Foulis Castle – also discovered that Iain, who like Ruairi Dall O Cathain and Ruaridh Dall MacMhuirich played to the Highlands’ noble families, had his own links with Foulis.

"He travelled about the Highlands entertaining and was a frequent visitor to Foulis Castle where he was befriended by the blind baron Robert Munro.

"Several of his piobaireachds are linked to the Munros."

The group will also play a set by 18th century fiddle player John Riddell of Ayr, who was the first blind fiddler known to have published his own book of tunes. Robert Burns set words to some of his melodies..

"I carried out a lot of research into the music and lives of these renowned blind composers as part of a Scottish cultural degree module with the University of the Highlands and Islands," said Alpha.

"That’s what initially inspired me to put together the project.

"The sheer genius of these musicians who composed stunning pieces of music for harps, pipes and fiddle whilst struggling against all odds to succeed as musicians inspired me to look at the contemporary picture.

"Harp player Fiona Kyle and piper Mark are visually impaired themselves and it is great to hear their interpretations of this music.

"We will also be playing a set by Mark and one by Fiona Kyle."

Fiona’s set includes her tune entitled Stepping Out – with extra description "Gerri the guide dog’s tune".

Mod: Leirsinn (Vision) at Eden Court at 8pm tonight (Thursday), with fiddler Alpha Munro, piper Mark Thow, harpist Fiona Kyle, harpist Bill Taylor, piper Duncan MacGillivray, Gaelic singer Fiona J Mackenzie and guitarist Fiona Cameron.

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