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School of Traditional Scottish Music, Song and Dance

This article by Jenny Laurie describes the school’s activities and records the students’ responses to their unique musical experience - SEPTEMBER 19th to 24th 2016 - Barga, Italy

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The school was founded in 2010 by the well-known Scottish piper and maker of pipes HAMISH MOORE. 2016 is the second year of the school and is perhaps the year in which it has become consolidated and reinforced for students. Just as important is the fact that 2016 is the year the Music School has been brought to the attention of a welcoming and appreciative Barga community.

This short report describes the school’s activities and records the students’ responses to their unique musical experience.

PART 1 THE CLASSES: tutor approach, student response

PART 2 THE CEILIDHS: informal gatherings for sharing music

PART 3 THE CONCERT: in which tutors and many others took part

PART 4 BARGA COMMUNITY: the nature of the welcome

PART 5 ARRANGEMENTS: food, accommodation, environment, events

APPENDIX Comments and suggestions to reflect upon

PART 1 Classes

They are:

Each student took two classes. The first choice classes were held in the morning, and second choice classes, which were shorter, were held in the afternoon, finishing at 3pm. This reporter attended one class given by each tutor.


Gary is planning to cover two tunes this morning; Galician March numbers 1 and 2. This is a first choice class for 9 students.

Learning the tune starts by singing it over and over, and they realise that the tune is a series of stairs and arpeggios so it seems fairly easy. Singing parts one and 2 over and over. Let’s see how it goes with the pipes now. It does work, and ‘Excellent, back to the top!’ shouts Gary, and they play the first tune again right through. And again. Then a little faster. It’s is very exciting to be in a room with nine pipers and to realise the tune is coming to life and ears are ringing with the smooth and powerful tune with force and confidence.
‘Yes’, says Gary, ‘it’s a march and it can take different speeds though that last time you played it through is about right in my opinion. Also it’s better if it’s not absolutely even – a very little texture will make it more interesting. The second march I have today goes nicely with it. We have 15 minutes left; can we put it together in that time? Right, here we go.’
Gary continues, ‘same approach; singing over and over, play over and over. You’ll notice a big high G in the second part which is completely unexpected; you are drifting along when suddenly you have this high G instead of A – a sort of wild note – but it is very pleasing when you are used to it. Play over. Again. Once more!’
A student asks Gary to play the tune once more. Gary does and everybody listens intently. Gary says it’s like bells coming down the scale. This audio-image seems to make sense and on the last try they completely get it.
‘Very well done,’ says Gary.

Stefan Wagner from Frankfurt said later I am enjoying these classes very much and am very pleased with my progress. It’s been an absolutely amazing week.
Allan from Edinburgh was very appreciative too. It has absolutely exceeded all expectations. I want to master harmony as a piper and I want to sing to my own pipes. I know it can be done but I’m not sure if I have enough time left.


Piping with Fin Moore is an eye-opener. It’s 10am, there are 8 students, they’ve been concentrating hard since 9.30 and they are having a breather. Fin is explaining something; ‘when I talk it allows your brain to process what you are working on, so it turns out better next time.’ They start again, the first phrase, slowly, again, and again. Then round the room, the first three then three then two. ‘Brilliant!’ shouts Fin, ‘Again’. They all play together, confidence increases, the sound becomes rich and smooth,
It’s a simple tune called Lochanside; Fin believes that simplicity in a tune is what makes it good. It doesn’t have to be complicated. They work through parts one and two, then put it all together. ‘Good, very good, I know it’s difficult to hold the tune and everybody finds this, but when the notes come back to you it’s a great feeling. Don’t worry about it.’ He has a big clear reassuring voice.
‘It’s better not to close your eyes,’ he says, ‘it causes a flip and can send your fingers in the wrong direction. Your 89% there, you are still smiling. Just. Tomorrow we will do a Strathspey and reel which will be really nice.’ The class closes with some maintenance tips and a last triumphant play of the tune. Exciting stuff.
The windows look on to ancient red tiled roofs and even more ancient distant wooded mountain tops. Everybody is tired but pleased. One student, laughing with relief, says I never can be sure I will remember the tune, I really struggle with that. Anne, from Forfar, says, ‘I’m here because in my job as a Learning Support Teacher I come across children again and again who say it’s too hard, I can’t do it. I decided to try something that I thought would be too hard, because I wanted to understand how these children feel. Learning the pipes is very hard indeed but I’m getting there and I’ll be better able to help the kids at school…I know what it’s like.
Gary from Haddington explains It’s hard without music, I’ve never learned by ear before. The tune keeps slipping from your mind, and it’s frustrating. But it’s very enjoyable. Getting up the hills of Barga to attend the class is another challenge! My big goal is to make a set of pipes and I’ve already learned wood turning and have made a start. I’ve no idea whether they will sound good but I’m determined to keep going till they are as good as I can make them.

SCOTS SONG with tutor Fiona Hunter.

Ahead of the class, I get hold of Fiona Hunter, Tutor. She has 8 students in her class and she told me she had been wondering what kind of approach she might take with them: she is obviously very experienced but she explained her hesitation; the students are mostly in choirs or groups and have been singing for years; they have access to the internet on which they can find every possible link to Scots songs from the past, much of which is now digitalised; and they already have found their voice. Then Fiona described what she was intending; new material, yes, but no words to be given out till the end of the day. Repetition, repetition, repetition would be the way, starting with something easy, street songs for example. Then at the end of the afternoon they would be given the words written down, and this is so that the feeling, the meaning and the context of the song are already absorbed as part of the musical journey. The words make it complete.
In Fiona’s class the song being studied is Heave Ya Ho by Davy Steele. It’s a fishermen’s rowing song in Scots dialect, and this is the second time the eight students work on it. Fiona is concentrating on rhythm, which should come from the rowing movement, and she is also showing ways of lightening the song with a bit of speed, so that it doesn’t sound like a dirge. These points are applied and the whole thing sounds better, with the words coming through more expressively.
Harmonies are suggested, which Fiona doesn’t do, but she encourages class members to get into low and high groups and see if they can improvise with harmony. It’s hesitant at first then it comes on strong and sounds really good. The next decision is whether to harmonise in every verse and chorus or just in the chorus, and the choice is chorus only. The contrast between verse and chorus is then very striking, the verses giving the story and the chorus celebrating the life and work of the men. ‘Lovely’ says Fiona, ‘keep the pendulum swinging, and let’s stand up and sing it again’.
At the end, ‘brilliant!’ is her verdict.
Student Margot from Edinburgh says, Overall, I really enjoy the singing class. At first there was a wee bit of talking which I thought took too much time, but that has died down and everyone concentrates. I think it’s really good that harmonies are encouraged; they are developing more over the week. My voice is low and I couldn’t start or hold a harmony on my own but I feel much more confident if I’m part of a group.’
Maureen from Edinburgh said Fiona has a great strong clear voice and is very good at knowing how to emphasise dialect and feelings.

GAELIC SONG with tutor Kathleen MacInnes

Kathleen was brought up in South Uist and Gaelic was her first language. There are four students in her group (a second choice class) and there is a varied range of fluency with the Gaelic. Today they are sitting round a table going through songs they have looked at to see which ones might work as accompaniment to step-dancing. A few are singled out. This is in keeping with the idea that the various areas of study at the Music School should be linked in some way and should lend extra meaning to every undertaking.
Songs often fall into categories, and Gaelic songs have a wide range of subjects: unrequited love, work (waulking songs), hymns, lullabies, ceilidh songs, songs of loss, and Latin prayers as in the Gregorian chant. Maureen from Inverness, a student, said she had once heard a listener say ‘not another one of these sad songs please,’ and the reply came ‘it doesn’t make you sad, it releases sadness.’ This refers to mourning and keening songs which are shared by the community as they relate to the grief and loss of a neighbour, friend, or family member.
It’s not always clear if ceilidh songs can be danced to, and the players have to play on and wait for the great moment when the dancers decide whether or not to get on to the floor.
Maureen from Inverness is studying Gaelic, and says she is enjoying this process, especially as she is beginning to see the logic of how the language works. She learned Gaelic songs in school in Durness (near Cape Wrath) as a child but no language was taught; in fact Gaelic was despised then, so she never knew what the songs were about. In her words, ‘when I got older I saw that the position was reversed, and when I saw that people from all over the world (though not from my native town) were learning Gaelic I became angry and decided to make myself learn, and I’m now doing this online through the Distance Learning Programme with the Gaelic College in Skye. We have to submit our homework verbally on the phone every week which can be truly awful but we have to do it. Nobody is making me do it but I’m glad I’m going to get there with it. I wish I could do this course nearer home but it’s a joy to come to Barga for it.’
Another student, Anne from Forfar, said I love listening to Gaelic songs. I’d like to learn some more tunes to play on my small Scottish pipes and this is a good way to collect them.
Towards the end of the week, about sixteen singers from the first and second choice Gaelic Singing classes were overheard trying out a Gregorian chant in Latin and some hymns in Gaelic in the small chapel adjacent to the Conservatoria where Kathleen knew the acoustic would be very good. It was a bit uncertain at first – they had only learned it hours earlier – but still, tears were shed at the beauty of the sound coming through the open door and spilling into the warm afternoon air. It was clear that the students were bowled over by the language and music.
The Latin form of the Gregorian chant came as a surprise but as Kathleen said, it’s an integral part of The Catholic Church during my growing up years in South Uist. Only later were we allowed to sing the Latin chant in the Gaelic translation.


The tune chosen for the class is a 4×4 Orkney march called The Watchman’s Polka. First, the 8 students tune up together, and then they have a warm up by finding the rhythm for the tune by tapping their foot, using the doh ray me scale. Up and down faster, softer, louder. Faster again.
Next they define the main keynotes, and start learning the tune line by line. First part. Again. Again. The second part is tricky, but the same process; line by line over and over again. Third part, trickier still. Line by line then put it all together. No moving on unless it’s right. Sarah maintains eye contact with each student, satisfying herself that it’s coming together. This is a four-part tune, and it’s common to find variations in the 3rd and 4th parts which require the utmost concentration. When the 3rd part works well, Sarah says, ‘Brilliant’. Then, ‘Make it a bit more ploddy, more defined. Let’s try the 3 parts all through and if you get stuck we’ll go back’. They don’t get stuck. The use of repetition – thorough, slow, and always reinforcing each note – is tiring but it works.
At this point various ways of making the tune more interesting are suggested, though of course it can be played just as it is if preferred. No printed music is issued so all are learning by ear. Possible ornamentations are slide, trills, and hammer-ons; the first two are self explanatory, but hammer-ons are more subtle; you have to flip quickly on the string so that a little fraction of a note comes before the main note. It sounds good, especially when Sarah shows how to do it.
‘Okay everybody, Part 4. We are nearly there. Phrase 1 and 2 are easy, 3 is very different and 4 different again.’ Back to listen, repeat, listen, repeat, again, again. The whole part; a bit hesitant. Sarah says ‘okay, so I’ll play it slowly once more.’ Then all together again. And it works. There is a big sigh, partly of weariness, mostly of pure satisfaction.
‘Is that the time? Right, once more and we will stop for this morning. One, two, three, yes!’ When the tune ends, Sarah says ‘WOW!’ which speaks volumes.

Senta Schoene from Frankfurt, Germany said I have made great progress on my fiddle and on the small Scottish pipes. I discovered the Barga School of Scottish Song Music and Dance on the internet and I have enjoyed every minute of it. We are very glad to be here.
Frieda, a well known Scottish singer, joined the fiddle class as she wanted a change and a new challenge. She has played her fiddle for a couple of years, she said, but this week has brought on fresh enthusiasm. I’m doing both the pipes and fiddle classes. The standard is so high and the tutors are amazing was her summing up.
Another student said remembering the tune is terrible for me. I practise very conscientiously, then next day I can’t remember the tune I have worked so hard on and that’s a bit disheartening but it’ll get better and I’ll just keep at it; I’m very determined and I want to make the most of this opportunity.

The printed music was given out at the end of the week so she will have the necessary reminder after all.


As I slipped into a seat, Tutor Derrick was ready to start on the dot of 9.30.
The six students in this class are wanting to learn how to play with other groups of musicians – ceilidh bands, singers, ensembles, and all kinds of solo performers. Derrick is from Cape Breton and Scottish music is at the heart of his experience, so he is ready for this challenging brief. It becomes a little complicated when it emerges that the students have widely differing levels of ability but all are naturally hoping to benefit.
And they do.
It’s early in the day and the class are singing along with Derrick to get familiar with the tune they are about to learn. The old repetition technique comes into play; again, and again, and again please. First part. Second part. The Tune is called Heavy Is My Fate. ‘It is,’ says Derrick ‘a simple but brilliant tune and our version will be in the key of D.’
The most difficult part of this is knowing when to change the chord. Derrick offers to drop his arm heavily at each chord change; some students are looking apprehensive, but this does help them to get it right and there is a raising of confidence early on. Some students make notes of the chord changes while others are strumming away quietly and without difficulty.
After this, Derrick holds it together by giving them different things to do. Relaxed now, a choice is offered. Some choose to practise further and others chose to try some tunes in C chord. They split and Derrick watches the C chord ones in turn and helps them with the fingering.
The concentration is intense. Then Derrick tells an anecdote or two about incidents in various recording studios and there are smiles all round. He offers the chance for students to play the tune again and video record it if they wish and there are a couple of apprehensive faces. Derrick says ‘You’ll deal with it, I’m pretty sure.’ They sing it through, then play it, without a hitch.
‘The way to get a tune into your head is through singing dee dee dee dee to the first part and da da da da to the second part. Let’s do that.’ They do, and one of the hesitant ones says, ‘got it, thanks’.
It’s nearly time to finish, and Derrick lets them hear a tune in the key of C on his I player, a fiddle tune, very slow. He points out all the chord changes, and says other tunes, strathspeys for instance, use the same chords over and over within different contexts to help students either to recognise them with confidence or try and get to know them from scratch.
This is highly technical for your reporter but the main point is that the tutor was respectful of the needs of each student; he watched them all and listened when they made a point; he offered encouragement and praise and said how most people find the C key difficult but they always ‘get it’ in the end. This was manna from heaven for some and straightforward reinforcement for others. Totally right for all.
Dave, from Portobello, who wanted to gain more skill and a different technique in accompanying a wider range of performers said Yes, it was extremely helpful in every respect.’
Sheila, from Blanefield, Glasgow, said ‘Derrick was fantastically skilful and understanding the way he held the class together. The varying levels of experience made this difficult but he always seemed to find the right way to handle everything that came up. At certain moments he would give the inexperienced player something to practise on and work with the rest on something else. It all began to gel and all of us became totally relaxed. Derrick is an excellent tutor; this situation couldn’t have been better handled. Dave, from Portobello and a very experienced guitar player, wanted to learn more about playing in a bands, and for that he needed to get hold of a different technique. Geoff wanted to learn more tunes. Another player had very little experience so just wanted to learn the guitar full stop.
Geoff, a Welshman from Inverness, told me I loved this class, and I’ve made very good progress, more than I thought possible. I’m taking the Gaelic Singing class – at home I sing with the Inverness Gaelic Choir and my two daughters have been native Gaelic speakers since attending Gaelic Medium school when the family lived in London. I like singing Gaelic sea shanties, and now will be able to accompany myself.


Melody is from Cape Breton, where Scottish step dancing was introduced in 1850 when many Scottish people brought their traditions to Nova Scotia after being forced to emigrate at the time of the Highland Clearances. Step dancers, along with fiddlers, singers, and writers of tunes, are now a huge and spectacular part of the traditional culture of Cape Breton and of places further afield in Nova Scotia.
Melody is a wonderfully watchable performer; she teaches with passion, enthusiasm and great thoroughness. Piper Ian accompanied her class on his pipes and the music and the rhythmic tap of dancing shoes on the wooden floor went sailing out through the open window and over grapevines and smallholdings towards the mountains beyond.
It is not easy to describe a step dancing class. A lot of energy is needed; bouncing, springing and co-ordination all have to be managed and Melody tells the class ‘a little at a time. Don’t expect to learn this quickly.’ It’s a matter of repeating and repeating what seems like the smallest easiest step. After many times over, when it seems right and the music comes in, the dancers are rewarded with the very special sense of what it feels like to be a step dancer.
Those looking on might think it’s easy if you practice enough and maybe it is for some but as soon as the relatively easy part is accomplished or indeed if it is accomplished, the next part is bound to be appallingly difficult, and even the most laid back spectator would realise this straightaway.
Sylvia from Edinburgh Melody is fantastic. She will not allow anything to be overlooked, she will say no that is wrong, you must get it right, and she will say that about the tiniest movement of a heel or a toe which is not correct. I love that kind of teaching; of course it’s challenging but you end up with only your absolute best effort. I’m learning because I love it and I always will.
Judith, also from Edinburgh I’ve had a lot of experience, such as a five-week course, one day a week, but I forget what I have learned and have to re-learn each time. Here it’s a solid block of concentration and you can’t help but retain it, and it becomes second nature.
Melody demonstrated for me some difficult steps and I have videoed them and will have a reminder when I am home again. I work as a teacher in the Gaelic Medium School in Edinburgh and having additional skills within the school is very useful. I like the idea of breaking into dancing at unexpected moments and I want to inspire the children to learn. Primary 7s are now fluent in Gaelic. There is a shortage of teachers so the Head Teacher takes the primary 7s every Monday all day to keep their language skills strong. This week in Barga had been great in reinforcing all I want to do.


There are quite a few doing step dancing who’ve had few opportunities to learn, so there are two tutors and Pat Ballantyne from Aberdeen takes this group. When the truth dawns – that is to say when would-be dancers realise that every little step can take hours to get right and by the time you have moved to the next step you have forgotten everything that had gone before – an expression of pure despair can be seen on one face or another. Pat is so experienced that she takes this as normal and exercises tremendous patience with the repetitious learning process. She is at the other end of the huge gymnasium, and any observer would say it’s a miracle that Pat and Melody can be in the same space each teaching a noisy activity and sharing a piper who turns to one group or the other at a signal from the tutors and picks up on his pipes whatever rhythm is required at any given moment. At one point Pat asks the students to get into a circle, and six pairs of feet move to the rhythm performing one short sequence over and over again. The circle has made a difference; it’s mesmerising, and correct.
I’m sitting on the window seat and try to do with my feet what the beginners are doing, and I keep losing it, no matter how hard I concentrate.
The opinion of everybody I meet from the step dancing classes is that Melody and Pat are great teachers and very understanding of how we learners are feeling.
Carol, a chestnut farmer who lives locally, is breathless with excitement after the class. I love it, I love it, and I’ll practise and practise all the time – last night I did two hours and this morning I’d forgotten the steps but as soon as Pat started it came back to me!

NB The work being done by the tutors was very impressive, and this writer and felt quite emotionally undone by the attitude of the students. There was a fascinating variety of reasons for deciding to take on these extremely exacting musical challenges. The determination is inspiring but there is something else; the sheer love of the music was much in evidence, making it clear that Scotland’s musical culture is in very safe hands.


Upon arrival in Barga, we find our digs, leave our bags and in no time at all we are crossing the bridge and tackling the formidable steepness of Barga’s little backwaters. We come to the L’Osteria bar and restaurant in the Piazza Angelio . It is closed but the owners have left the front conservatory part open for people to sit and, as it happens, to sing and play. Several Music School participants are in the middle of the sing around, and we creep in, at the same time picking up on Susan’s very sensitive rendition of Black Waterside. The song is really being sung for the small baby she is holding and what a tender moment this is after an early start and a morning with Ryanair, and rushing for the train, and strange trains and no rations to keep us going.
However, all that is as nothing compared to the joy of entering this enclave of harmony and peace. We have just arrived and yet are already in the middle of the first ceilidh of the week.
Frieda comes after Susan next with the Night Visiting Song, Tom with Back O’ The Winter, and then a real surprise; Fiona comes in with Willie Scott’s wonderful song There’s Bound to be Row. We had last heard this song, sung by Willie Scott himself, in 1963 in the Howff, Dunfermline. Willie used the rueful but resigned poor me my wife is always nagging and I’m tired of it approach. And here we are in 2016 with a young vibrant and bold singer giving it a feisty woman’s interpretation; she is the one who is fed up and no wonder. Yet Fiona gets to the guts of the song; how ancient love can survive everything.
Hamish – Director and Founder of the Music School – then sang Annie McKelvie and Sarah McFarlane, Fiddle Tutor, followed on her fiddle with the Unst Bridal March, with Hamish joining in unexpectedly on his small pipes. Chris then came in with the march Horsburgh Castle, then Eileen combined Shift and Spin with Sylvia’s Oh Dear Me. Sylvia asked ‘did that work?’ and there was a resounding ‘Yes’ and much applause for this intriguing treatment of two well known Dundee songs.
Hamish had put our names down for a beer tasting at the Shamrock Irish bar so we left L’Osteria and enjoyed beer and quite outstanding food and it was there we started getting to know some of the students. I met Abby, mother of the small baby Susan had been holding. Abby is in the Piping Class as well as Gaelic Singing. She has four children, the eldest only eight, so had given up on piping for some years. After the new baby’s arrival, she decided to take it up again, only with the small pipes instead of the full pipes she had started with, and her wish was play spontaneously with other instrumentalists. Her mother had accompanied her and looked after the baby while Abby was in class, and without that help she just wouldn’t have made it to Barga. The additional pleasure in the arrangement is that her mother loves the music. I said the baby would have music running through her veins as she grows up, and Abby said, ‘I do hope so’.
Piper Colin, and his brother Coll, fiddler, and their Dad (who fancied a holiday) are originally from Skye, now based in Inverness. The sons are very pleased to be attending proper classes, both wanting to make progress, though they have been playing since childhood. ‘It’s great to be here’ they said.
We move from the Shamrock to La Laconda di Mezzo, where Hamish has arranged space for us to have another session. This is the third ceilidh in the one day. It’s in a cellar but that is the wrong word; it’s a cantina, a place where wine is stored, served and tasted. It’s below ground level but has an amazingly high ceiling, and on the stone walls are unframed and bold caricatures the king, queen, and knave, and all of them have eyeballs facing, sliding clearly to left or right, giving each portrait a very amusing impression of suspicious activity, of plotting, and of, yes, pure malevolence. These works are by an artist called Keane, who was commissioned to create an installation based on tarot cards. He wanted to paint the characters on metal ice-cream advertisement panels as they were tax-free and out of style, therefore cheap and available. Part of the installation is in La Laconda and the remainder are in the artist’s own studio.
On a stone plinth on the back wall is a huge ham-slicing machine of ancient origin, its rounded blade gleaming and its thick heavy dark mahogany base beautifully buffed and shining.
However we are not here to look at the scenery and soon the music starts up again. Fiona begins with a Gaelic Song in English and then Kathleen McInnes, the Gaelic Song tutor, follows straight on with the same song in Gaelic. You could hear a pin drop. Eileen comes in with The Gallowa’ Hills, and Tom gives an introduction then sings Scotland’s Story, the Proclaimers’ song which conveys Scotland’s welcoming attitude towards immigrants. The feelings expressed are clearly shared.
Then Frieda sang again – The Lady of Auchineoune which contains the unforgettable line ‘Pox be on your ugly wizened face!’ which raised a chuckle. Sarah and Dave played together on fiddle and guitar. I notice Sarah plays with her eyes closed, as if completely immersed, lost in the tune. Sylvia continued with a song which she described as ‘like a Russian Lullaby’, and other singers joined in with harmonies. Sheila with Do Ye See Yon Shepherd, and Susan with We Are Roving Travellers, Sarah with Shetland fiddle tunes and then, for a complete change, a recitation. HAMISH CAN YOU FILL IN HERE PLEASE? Speaker, poem???
Gary West, Piping tutor, played to the song The Yellow on the Broom, which everyone knew and could join in. Unexpectedly, this was linked by Tom singing Doomsday in the Afternoon which was written by the late John McCreadie; the last lines of this song are,

I don’t know what the queen was thinking off
Tae gie a tink a medal ony way.

This is a reference to Belle Stewart, a member of the travelling community, who was awarded the OBE.
We went off to sleep after a day which seemed to last for three weeks, but I have since heard the Cape Breton ones joined in later on, and the Step Dance tutor Melody got up and performed some miraculous step dancing on the top of the very barrel we had been using as a drinks table – how I wish I had stayed on.
The Music school classes would start in earnest next morning.


From the start, Hamish had hoped that there would be a ceilidh each evening from 5pm till 7, before dinner, which usually is taken from 8pm onwards. He liked to follow the Italian way of life while we were in Italy and that is what happened most evenings. These ceilidhs were held in Piazza Salvo Salvi, a beautiful small outdoor space where every single building has been there since before the16th Century. No traffic, no noise, just the Da Arista Bar for ‘snacks and music’, a small dress shop on the corner, a little house-linens shop just across the way and The Caffe Capretz for more formal dining. No alien sounds, no distractions.
Now it is time for Monday’s ceilidh to start and Tom is the one nominated by Hamish to start it off and keep it running smoothly. He begins with Ye Banks and Braes and of course many sing along and brought in harmonies. Then it begins to build up as songs are interspersed with tunes on pipes and fiddles. Plenty of solo songs too.
Frieda is an accomplished singer from Aboyne in the Highlands. She’s from a family of singers who still meet and sing at family gatherings. I asked her if she’s had a good start to the week. ‘The session last night was… well few people would ever hear music like it…outstanding.’ Rod, who like Frieda is a radio broadcaster and singer, is not in the best of health but is stimulated by the atmosphere and the melange of highly gifted people who are ready to share songs and tunes at the drop of a hat.
Dave’s song, Mulbenie, is from the north east of Scotland. The title, which is really Mill of Bondie, refers to one of the big ferm toons with many workers and huge acreage, and the river in the song is the Bine (Boyne).
Tonight a lot is happening in the Piazza. A silent runner slips between the tables, hardly noticed. Small jugs of house wine and snacks of cheese and salami with bread are enjoyed, Frieda whispers, ‘I was hoping to lose a bit of weight…no chance!’ The peace and purity of the air is quite magical. Allan McDonald from Skye plays on his pipes a whole series of tunes in a soft slow low-key way, perfect for early evening; Hector the Hero and My Home were included. Abby was there with her baby; sometimes she is dancing the infant on her knee, other times she is gently rocking her to sleep. It all depends on the music.
More singing for all. The satirical Seceder Cat caused great merriment and was easy to join as it goes to a well known Scottish hymn tune (Oh for a thousand songs to sing thy Great Redeemer’s praise) which is great for off the cuff harmonising. Gary the piping tutor followed on the pipes with The Stool of Repentance, completely appropriate. Next Coll McDonald, and gave some fiddle tunes, Susan sang It’s Not The Day, and Sheila gave a heart-rending version of Ellis Island, a song she wrote herself about hopeful immigrants arriving in the US.
More tunes, marches this time such as Horsburgh Castle, Dalnanasig, Green of Cires, Malts of the Optics, and The Little Cascade.
Another song for all about immigration, All Jock Tamson’s Bairns, and there was humour in a song from Pete McKenzie and friends, who are all on the piping course. The session ended with Maureen’s song When I Am In My Prime; every single word could be heard even though by this time the Piazza was quite crowded.
Off for dinner to L’Osteria, and later, much later – would you believe? – the session was still going on with another batch of Summer Music School students and tutors. Music, music music – never too much!


Standing on the pedestrian bridge before climbing up to the Conservatoria and chatting about the day before it transpires that several of the students have hardly slept. Not because they stayed up late drinking but because there was so much music in the air; as the song goes, ‘all the tunes in the world were dancing around in my head’. Others couldn’t wait for the next day to begin. But the main feeling was that being free and able to follow the dream would bring the best sleep they could hope for. So off they went, trying to look alert and ready for the second day of classes.
In the early evening, everyone gathered in the Piazza Salvo Salvi again for communal music-making. The community singing started things off and again there was a tremendous range of songs and tunes. Allen from Edinburgh kicked off with A Pair o’ Nicky Tams in broad Scots, and then a rendition of Lochanside on the pipes came gently and slowly across the evening air. Rod, a Scot now living in California, sang The Beggarman and there were many more tunes which included Battle of the Somme, and Fare Weel Ye Banks Of Sicily. There was Jewels in the Ocean, with Gary on Pipes and Coll on fiddle. Sheila sang The Shearing to her own guitar which, like all the individual singing, held everyone’s attention.
Rolling Home was the last song out there. The second last verse has the lines The journey to contentment ,
The Journey yours alone
which fitted perfectly, and maybe defined the point of both the song and the Summer School: separate journeys taken together.
Keane, from the Barga News, said he had never seen anything like it. Isabella, a local resident and cellist, said she was very interested in the music and would like to hear much more.
In the restaurant Scacciaguai on the Via di Mezzo – particularly delicious food – the tables were cleared and yes, out came the instruments and a generous keyboard was carted in. Melody the Step Dance tutor started it off on her fiddle, her dancing shoes boldy holding the rhythm on the floor, and fellow tutor Pat churning out the most wonderful accompaniment on the keyboard. Faster, faster it got, and the skill was breathtaking, unbelievable. Sarah the fiddle tutor joined in, smiling non stop. This was followed by a moving and beautiful rendition by Ian of Jock o’ Hazledean; Ian has only been singing for a few months.
Local people were there with us, Hamish having invited them for dinner. Suddenly, Tom had a moment of inspiration; he sang the Neapolitan love song Sorrento and the words were a parody written by Billy Connolly –the romantic Sorrento was actually Saltcoats. This went down a storm with everybody, especially the Italians, some of whom were well acquainted with Glasgow humour. A Gaelic song from Kathleen, then a song of separation from Dave, brought your reporter’s emotions to tipping point and her feet, now still, took her home to her bed.

The ceilidhs continued every evening, and it might be a bit inappropriate to list every song and tune. It is enough to make a few comments on the spirit of these gatherings.
Firstly, it was most extraordinary that nobody had to be coaxed to sing or play or dance. There might be a few seconds of silence, and then another voice or instrument would begin, with no introduction, just the music taking off and grasping everybody’s attention. Or there might be no gap at all; just a continuous flow of glorious sound.
Secondly, nobody ever talked while other(s) were making their contribution, and there was always warm applause at the end.
Thirdly, the tutors and students were as equals. Initially, many people didn’t know who was who, but it didn’t matter – the music was everything. In class, the tutor was leader and teacher, but nobody showed a condescending or patronising attitude, and all were unfailingly professional, and considerate yet at the same time informal.
The ceilidhs were held in various venues and environments so the atmosphere was different each time. There were different buildings to look at and of course the audience wasn’t always the same; some remained for the whole time while others dropped in when they felt like doing so. Local people, different faces, good wine, and an everlasting and superb range of songs and tunes to listen to. These were special never- to- be forgotten evenings in a space filled with warmth, kindness and music.


Nearly all of the tutors and students walked down to the valley below where La Cantino Del Vino was our destination for dinner and wine tasting. There is a wine shop selling a huge range of wine as well as unbottled wine for tasting and which you can arrange to have shipped by the case to your home. Interesting typical food products are available too. Tables were all set outside for us and we sat down for talking and eating. We discovered that Italian pipers have a special way of making a toast at the beginning of each course; this consists of a very hearty rhyme; the words are simple; lalalala la! Ho! repeated 4 times to a basic tune. Every time they started up there was surprised laughter but then we got used to it and started it off alongside the Italians; was noisy, silly, and really good fun.
The merriment soon gave way to music, and so the ceilidh got started. At first the playing and singing were quite restrained, as it was up at the Piazza. Down here, the atmosphere was more bucolic and soon there was dancing and loud stuff and a generally robust atmosphere, with the pipers, along with their Italian counterparts, making a great big sound. Tom started dancing a waltz with the chestnut farmer, and the little baby’s grandmother started dancing with the chestnut farmer’s young son. This was interspersed with the occasional quiet song – for example, Sheila, with her Song of the Fish Gutter’s and Frieda, singing the beautiful Dainty Davie took up a position in front of the pole supporting the canvas roof , and each of them could be heard and seen by all.
The owners of La Cantino Del Vino were friendly, sociable and keen to join in; they offered explanations of how their main product, polenta, was made, as well as some fine details about their wine, of which they are very proud. Several people from the music school ordered a case or two of wine to be shipped to their homes at a very good price.
It was an amazing evening, starting at 6pm and finishing at 11pm with many warm handshakes with the Italian hosts.
Another ceilidh which will be remembered for a very long time.

PART 3 THE CONCERT (and more ceilidh talk)


This was held in the Piazza Salvo Salvi on the Thursday evening starting at 9pm. Before this, the Da Aristo staff were offering a buffet for everyone attending the concert, which they did, with great generosity; cold meats, cheeses, quiches, and countless glass jugs of the very good house wine.
People became to crowd in but somehow there was enough space. Tables had been cunningly arranged to get as many seated as possible – this was not a first! The only lighting came from a couple of standard floor lamps, although there was still a little light from the evening sky. Rain had seemed entirely possible but it did not fall – as Hamish said, heavy rain would have been a total calamity.
The programme opened with tunes by the Italian pipers
And then it unfolded as follows:
Tom’s song The Rose of Allandale, sung from within the audience, no microphone
Melody’s solo step dance to Pat’s keyboard playing
Pat’s solo step dance to Derrick’s guitar
Fiddles tunes with Sarah (fiddle tutor) and Dave Francis on guitar.
Lucca dancers, beautiful 18th Century costumes who performed with tremendous grace various versions of theQuadrilles
Kathleen, with Gaelic songs, unaccompanied.
Pipes tunes Gary and Fin
Dave Francis, who sang his own composition The Piper and the Maker
This was included as a tribute to Hamish whose skill as a maker of pipes and whose musical dedication as a piper were celebrated in the words of Dave’s song.
Freedom Come All Ye, for which everybody stood up and sang together.
Speeches from Sonia in Italian and English, Hamish in Italian, to warm applause.

The End.
But no, wait. The crowd has dispersed, and the ceilidh has re- started in the Piazza. It hasn’t rained, as was feared at one point, and the sky is now full of stars.
Tomorrow, Friday will be the last day.


Classes. Lunch. Classes. Gaelic singing in the chapel for all passersby to hear. Big gathering in the gymnasium, where all groups have a concert of their own, windows open, everything escaping, possibly reaching the ears of farmers and travellers, road menders and citizens of Barga as they stroll about enjoying the sun.
Ceilidh starts as usual in the Piazza Salvo Silvo. Dinner.
Then one more ceilidh, including a song of farewell from Frieda and some gentle tunes on pipes and fiddle from brothers Allan and Coll.
Freedom Come All Ye again. Everyone standing up to sing as if it were the Scottish National Anthem.
First group will depart on the 4am bus to Pisa

PART 4 BARGA COMMUNITY RESPONSE (back to the beginning)

A day or two before the Music School began, there was an official Municipal Reception to welcome Hamish and the tutors to Barga. This was to express a mutual pleasure in the coming together of the Italians and the Scots through music. It was also to mark and celebrate the very longstanding historical relationship between Scotland and Barga. Again, Sonia interpreted Hamish’s very impressive Italian speech into English , and also the Mayor’s Italian speech into English. Both were received with great enthusiasm.
Keane, who is editor of the barganews, made a very interesting and striking collection of photographs of the Music School participants, and set this up on a video screen in the window of his office in Piazza Angelio. He was said he was impressed and moved by the music, and enjoyed capturing the players and their instruments as a permanent reminder of a special time. You could tell he meant it.
The chef at Da Aristo, who prepared the excellent buffet on the night of the concert was entranced. He wore a large white chef’s hat and a tartan waistcoat over his white shirt and black trousers and was present throughout the week watching and listening, clearly enjoying every moment. Vanda and family and the staff at La Cantina de Vino made us all very welcome. Sonia, whose Glasgow links were so warmly conveyed whenever she spoke was much appreciated, and so was the proprietor of the Fashion Shop who invited the fiddle class to meet in her shop when their usual room in the Conservatoria was needed for the Cardinal’s visit. This lady said how much she loved to hear the women singing. Landladies and landlords were friendly and helpful, restaurant staff were welcoming and efficient, and all the shop assistants, bus drivers, and citizens of Barga seemed to be holding out the hand of friendship.
The music was ubiquitous, invasive, even, but in truth the people of Barga seemed to be enjoying it one way or another.



Food : was considered interesting everywhere, delicious too, and not as expensive as you’d find in UK and elsewhere. Ice Cream, salami, cheese, cakes, coffee and of course pasta were given special mention.
Accommodation: No complaints except some were a bit far to walk to, especially for those carrying heavy instruments.
Environment: Dramatic. A striking contrast between the old town up the hill and the newer part in the valley. The contrast between up and down is fascinating, as both are full beautiful buildings, and hardly anything is new, simply less old. There are wide skies and wonderful weather. The steepness of the streets would not be easy for people with mobility difficulties.
There is good public transport for Pisa (airport)and Lucca.
Barga is a peaceful interesting town with plenty of shade, staggering views, nice benches for picnics, the best ice cream, and clean air. It’s a place people like to return to, again and again.
Any mistakes or omissions are entirely the responsibility of the author who would like to apologise here for a small (I hope) number of factual errors.

Jenny Laurie October 11th 2016

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