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Tunes galore in the tattie holidays


By Liza Mulholland


With the October break nearly upon us, parents everywhere will already be wondering how best to keep the kids occupied for the fortnight. Some might be lucky enough to be going off on holiday and, let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to escape the current political chaos that sees a daily lurch from shambles to sharp practice and back again?

Not so long ago though, the ‘tattie holidays’ were just that; schools were closed to enable potato crops to be lifted and extra money earned for families. Before the development of mechanised harvesters, big squads of labour were needed to gather in the tatties, with quick, nimble fingers being especially useful. Children could often earn a few bob for themselves as well as contribute to family coffers.

But with the days of agricultural youth labour largely gone, what are youngsters to do? Many of course have part-time jobs in shops, hotels and cafés, but for younger children weeks off school can be challenging – and for parents! So, here’s a suggestion – why not try a Fèis and give your kids a week’s fun playing music, trying different instruments, singing, dancing, enjoying art, games, drama and lots more?

Right on our doorstep here in Inverness we have the wonderful Fèis a’ Bhaile (Fèis of the town) offering a glorious week of guitar, mandolin, fiddle, keyboard, chanter, pipes, drumming and singing, including a special ‘wee Fèis’ group for P1 to P3 children and a Senior Fèis for S1 to S6 offering sound engineering, song and tune writing, and digital media.

Fiddle is just one of the instruments youngsters can learn at the week-long Fèis a' Bhaile classes.
Fiddle is just one of the instruments youngsters can learn at the week-long Fèis a' Bhaile classes.

Held in Millburn Academy every October, I can vouch for it being a fantastic week for youngsters. When my own son was younger, I signed him up for it over several years and he loved it, always coming home with excited stories of what he’d been doing and eager to let me hear the tunes he’d learned.

With cheery, friendly tutors, a wide variety of activities and music sessions to try, the chance to make new friends and have lots of fun, it’s too good an opportunity to miss! And you don’t even need your own instrument; these can be provided, with opportunities to hire thereafter.

For older pupils, the chance in the Senior Fèis to learn about sound engineering and digital media, get guidance on song-writing and music composition, will offer fascinating insights into skills complementary to playing and extremely useful in creating and recording their own music.

Terrific innovations such as this are great ways of sustaining interest as youngsters advance through teenage years and grow less keen to be learning alongside much younger children. They also reflect the fact that there are careers and opportunities available in music that don’t necessarily involve being a full-time playing musician.

I cannot sing the praises of the Fèis movement highly enough, as it has brought about, over three decades, a real renaissance in traditional music and Gaelic arts. Many of today’s young stars of folk and trad started out at a Fèis, whetting their appetite to learn more, and becoming regular attendees at classes and weeks such as Fèis a’ Bhaile.

The important thing, though, is that all young people get a chance to share in our traditional culture and enjoy the delights and satisfaction of playing, singing and making music. There is nothing quite like the sense of accomplishment for youngsters when they’ve mastered a tune, get the hang of some chords or find they can join in with others in a wee ceilidh group. Self-esteem and confidence blossom beautifully in such settings and is truly heart-warming to witness.

Have I convinced you? I hope so! Fèis a’ Bhaile runs from Monday, October 21, to Friday, October 25, and if your youngsters fancy a fantastic week of music fun then please check out www.feisabhaile.com for more information and registration.

I’ll see you there as I’m one of the tutors and I’m so looking forward to it! We might not be howkin’ tatties but we’ll be harvesting tons of great music at this gaitherin’.



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