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The Musical Isle

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BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra | 11:53 UK time, Thursday, 24 June 2010

greg.jpgThis island is jumping with music, and not just the music that's taking place in the festival. I mean the music that takes place here all the time. Today I gave some master-classes at the Orkney Grammar school with Mark O'Keefe the principle trumpet in the SSO and I wasblown away. The commitment of the teachers and the vibrancy of the music department was just so inspiring and as a result, the level of musicianship on this island is prolifically high. While we taught, there was a constant Birtwistle-like experience of surround sound coming from all the other classes taking place within the department. Everywhere, kids just playing with music. Getting their hands into the earth and just having fun. I heard tunes I knew being given different treatments by children in an environment where they were allowed to experiment but where they also had the guidance of a teaching staff of such skill and dedication it made me wish I had grown up here as a child. It's left me excited and inspired beyond any expectation I could have had.

Also, listening to Mark O'Keefe teach was a pleasure beyond words. His knowledge and consideration were a wonderful lesson and the staff and children together were enthralled by his quiet and creative narrative. I don't know how much more wonder I can take in a day, without spontaneously exploding with pleasure, and I'm not half way through yet. We have the last concert to do tonight and I have to fit in a quick sound check with the Orkney band Saltfishforty where I'm joining them for a tune tonight. I have to teach them a great Armenian dance tune I know and also have to learn a local Orkney tune written by someone who used to be a postman on the island. This tune sums up the musical experience for me up here. Here was a postman who wrote tunes and when he died he left a collection largely unknown that the local players have discovered and are now playing. In Orkney and other places where the 'tradition' is part of life, it seems to be perfectly ok to do many things, one of which is music. The girl who just served me the Latte I'm sipping while I write is a shot putter, swimmer, javelin thrower and by the way, a fantastic fiddler. Music is not elevated to the point where it becomes removed from society or community, it simply belongs. As a result its part of the fabric of life, it serves people at a fundamental level. You get the feeling that if it were removed, the islands would sink beneath the waves.

Greg Lawson
Principal Second Violin

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