One Sunday in the Year – the shifting of a dragon

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As regular readers will shortly find out there are some earth shaking changes just about to happen to barganews, more of which will become self-evident in the New Year but as we enter the final week of 2010,  there are still one or two loose ends which need to be tied up,  desks cleared and cupboards emptied ready to take on 2011. One of those loose ends is an article written in July of this year and never published for a variety of reasons. It is an extremely well written, thoughtful and thought provoking article by Martine Robertson who was a participant in the Hamish Moore School of Scotch Music and Dance which held its inaugural gathering in Barga in June of this year. We publish in now in its entirety.  – The editor –

The music of Scottish small pipes, low and sweet, or for an instant sharp and shrill, waivers, then releases over the high window ledges of the Conservatorio and into the jasmine June air of Barga, in 2010.

As congruent as the relationship between this wee and beautiful city and the couthy West of Scotland coastal towns; the Conservatorio de Santa Elizabetta resounding to the rhythms and reels of Scotland’s far away times feels like a fit, practically, ideologically and emotionally, it all rings as true as the bells of Barga.
A musical kinship of men and women from Scotland, Italy, England, America, Canada, Luxembourg, Ireland, South Africa and Belgium gathered for the inaugural year of the Hamish Moore School of Scotch Music and Dance. Over six days we played, sang, ate, laughed, and fell in love with Barga together.

There are more than 50 students and tutors in the city this week for the first ever Barga School of Scottish Music Song and Dance. The school, held from 20-27 June in the Tuscan hill town these days regarded as the most Scottish town in Italy, due to the large volume of emigration from the area to the west of Scotland, is run by the piper and pipemaker Hamish Moore, who has been nurturing affiliations with Barga since he was musician-in-residence there in 2008. (articles here)

The excellence of the school itself was assured by the engagement of tutors who as well as having international reputations as musicians, also possessed an acknowledged aptitude for passing on their expertise with love and enthusiasm to passionate students.

I chose to come to the school as a student on the step dance course, because I love dancing, I also came because the school was set in Barga, where it has been my pleasure to visit several times in the past two years; twice to paint with an East Lothian art class (article here) , and on another occasion when Sangstream, the choir I belong to in Edinburgh joined with the Barga choir to sing in the First ‘Grand Concerto’ in 2008 (article here). On that occasion the bells pealed out from the campanile down through the streets and into the Teatro dei Differenti for their notes were taken up in pipes and voice as the ‘Bells of Barga’ the lullaby written by Hamish Moore. Warmth, great hospitality and enduring friendships as well as beautiful surroundings, this was an opportunity I would not have missed for anything.

On our first Sunday we gathered as a group to eat, drink and sing in one of the town’s excellent and most hospitable restaurants. We sang songs of love life, and good fellowship, and were delighted to be joined by the strong and lovely voices of some Welsh climbers. A call went up for myself and a singing pal for a particular Scottish love song, we were happy to give our version, the song ended to applause, and then, and then something else. A woman stood directly in front of us and hissed at us to stop singing Scottish songs in an Italian restaurant. In a kind of shock for a moment, I tried to explain, we were students taking part in a Scottish Music school, ‘well I’m not’ she hissed again, and strode angrily into the street. Not clear whether she was actually a customer I followed her, I hoped I think to talk to her, to engage her, perhaps explain something of why we had chosen Barga. ‘Yes’ she was a customer but clearly conversation was not an option. Thoughts scattered under the woman’s hostility, I did not say, we had been singing songs from around the world, that only two songs from Scotland had been sung. One English friend became embarrassed another cried. One of our group a prominent Glasgow businessman and Internationalist sung ‘Scotland’s Story’ a song of tolerance and welcome to all who come to live in Scotland. He followed this with an English song, called ‘Rolling Home’ singing with all his heart, to all in the company. Sadly, the airs had been tainted, some people in the company of the angry woman, rolled their eyes and put their fingers in their ears, sadly we became aware that these were people who lived locally. They did not listen to the words or see the love in the singing and playing, they heard only what they thought they heard. ‘Scottish’ songs….somewhere I sensed the shifting of a dragon. We continued to sing and play, classical flute, Irish fiddle music, arias from operas and songs from all the beyond. Quietly as they were leaving several other people from the angry woman’s group approached us and thanked us for our contribution to the evening. They had appreciated what they had heard, during that one Sunday in the year.

The school had been planned for Barga in the knowledge that there would be great good will and support for the venture within the town, and so it proved. We had huge wholehearted support; from local Italian friends and businesses, from the Scots Italian community and from resident incomers to the Barga community and we were pleased to be contributing as some 50 customers over 7 days to the businesses within the community.

One of the main and stated aims of the week, was to marry the musical ideals of an older style of Scottish music based on strong rhythm, and connecting song, pipe and fiddle music and dance as integral and equal, with an Italian sensibility towards artistic spontaneity and pleasure in good food, good company and the possibility of the whole shebang breaking into song. This aim was more than realised, and the music and fun spilled out into the streets and embraced Jigs reels, sublime operatic singing on the terrace and eager small hours queues to wrest the karaoke mic in Paulo Gas’s café. We made new friends and rekindled and strengthened old relationships. We felt a synergy between the town and the school.

And somehow, I still have sadness about what happened that Sunday; A sense of having been judged and misunderstood. I am left with discomfort that celebrating ones culture, however joyfully and inclusively was viewed in such a negative and hostile manner. I have written and rewritten this passage many times in an attempt to render it palatable, not least because the angry woman was an English woman, and perhaps in part to gain sympathy for my cause, but have realised the questions raised for me are quite basic, balder if you like: Was the singing simply bad, in which case why choose to tell us to stop singing Scottish songs; Did the songs engender threat or insecurity to aggrieved listeners, or was there something else, the uneasy shift of the dragon of prejudice; or, did the musical evidence of our security within a tradition shine an unintentional light on a void of tradition and identity within the angry or jaded that evening?

The sun shone, and the rain poured down, music welled through the streets and lived in the bars till the wee small hours, money was spent and great service was given, enemies revealed themselves and firm friends were made, all life was here in an extraordinary week.

Martine Robertson

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my desk is clear and my cupboards mostly empty… now what?

jack nannini
jack nannini

Of course bad manners are never justified and the ill-tempered outburst from the lady in question was surely uncalled for; however it may instructive for Ms. Robertson to consider the wider context: Whilst it is undoubtedly true that, primarily as a result of decades if not centuries of emigration, Barga boasts a well established link with Scotland and other further flung shores, it is also true that in more recent times this link has been inanely bandied about by successive local administrations to the point of exhaustion. The reasons for this have nothing to do with a genuine interest in… Read more »


Addressed To An Vocalist
On hearing of the stooshie in the Centro Storico

Dear Martine, Here is some advice,
You’ll tak it no uncivil:
You shouldna sing at angels mair,
Try singing tae the devil.

To sing tae Angel’s dreary wark,
Wi’ Nick, there’s little danger:
You’ll easy please a lang-kent face,
But no sae weel a stranger!

Carlo Umberto Burns.
The Lea Rig,


Right. C.U. Burns. Didn’t he compose the poem “From a Louse?”


Ah Monaco!

“Gae somewhere else and seek your dinner
On some poor body.”