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Another string to their bows;Arts;Interview;Leanne Brock and Fiona Grier

Eleanor Caldwell meets two young fiddlers who are among the first to benefit from a new mentoring scheme that aims to promote traditional talents in Fife

A mentoring scheme to promote traditional music for young people has been set up by Fife community services with the help of lottery funding for "talents, skills and creative abilities".

"This is a very exciting scheme," says Sheena Wellington, traditional arts development officer for Fife.

"For the first time, we'll be able to give highly talented emerging traditional singers, musicians, dancers, weavers and storytellers the time and resources to develop their skills."

The number of participants will initially be small and selections will be made on the recommendation of specialist teachers, artists and arts officers.

Two of the first youngsters to benefit are Fife fiddlers Leanne Brock and Fiona Grier, both aged 17. Their mentor, Claire McLaughlin, is a fiddler with the well-known folk band Deaf Shepherd and a business studies teacher at Lochgelly High.

She is taking a six-month "career break" to work with the girls, who hope to be accepted for the Scottish music degree course at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.

In addition to fiddle lessons, McLaughlin plans to offer the young fiddlers the opportunity to attend courses, concerts and festivals across the country.

"We might get the chance to go to festivals in Uist, Newcastle, Southern Ireland and maybe even California," says Leanne, a fifth year pupil at Auchmuty High in Glenrothes.

Although part of Claire McLaughlin's job will be to teach the girls new tunes, she says "the essence of the mentoring scheme is to get them into the real spirit of the music".

"I know the right people to make contact with. As I get to know the girls, I'll be able to identify key areas and give them the best opportunities and introduce them to the best people to help them."

She is planning to take Leanne and Fiona to the Fiddle Festival '99 in Edinburgh in November. "I hope to get them participating in workshops and acting as workshop assistants for younger or less talented players."

Fiona, a pupil at Glenrothes High, would "like to try and encourage younger kids to play traditional music". She and Leanne admit that despite playing classical violin since primary school, they only started playing traditional Scottish fiddle music at the age of 14.

Claire McLaughlin is also a member of the Traditional Arts Creativity Team (TACT) in Fife.

She was steeped in traditional Irish music while she was learning to play, and found there was "so much duplicated effort" when she was learning Scots music.

"I would really have benefited from having someone to guide me in Scots music early on."

David Francis, author of a new Scottish Arts Council report, Traditional Music in Scotland, and artistic director of the Edinburgh Folk Festival Society, says: "The success of this scheme comes from the fact that Fifehas a traditional arts development officer. Sheena Wellington, the animateur, can release ideas and identify the most talented young people through her contact with traditional artists and schools."

After performing in front of an assembled audience of traditional musicians and SAC members at last month's launch of the SAC report, Leanne and Fiona had an impromptu meeting with Richard Wemyss, arts resources officer in Fife, who says he can give the girls all sorts of technical advice, which they wouldn't necessarily learn otherwise.

"For example," he says, "at the moment we're talking about the positioning of microphones and amps on the stage."

This meeting was followed by an afternoon session working with composer Simon Thoumire, developing skills in "stream of consciousness playing and improvisation".

The Fife mentoring scheme is just one of the educational strategies set out in the SAC report, which recommends the provision of traditional musicians in schools, more traditional arts development officers throughout Scotland and the establishment of a central traditional music training network.

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