Oyne's answer to the Oscars

A film of the story of a song has been created by children and has pulled in a crowd, Jean McLeish discovers

Everyone has sprinkled on a little stardust tonight - even 10-year-old boys are wearing bow ties and some have flashes of colour in spiky hair-dos.

It's a school night with even colder weather forecast, but with wellies and warm coats on, over children's gladrags, families tramped through the snow up to Oyne Village Hall in rural Aberdeenshire.

Cyberspace might never have been invented on a night like tonight - the drum beats, two girls play their fiddles and feet are tapping as children start to sing. Johnnie Sangster is the kind of catchy tune you find yourself still humming days later and the evening celebrating traditional Scottish songs gets off to a lively start.

The occasion is the culmination of months of work on a special project run with Oyne Primary by singer and broadcaster Frieda Morrison, who was appointed "artist in residence in Scots language and song" by the University of Edinburgh's School of Celtic and Scottish Studies last year. Her role here is to promote Scots language and songs from the Greig-Duncan Folk Song Collection, encouraging people to sing the songs.

Aberdeenshire headteacher Gavin Greig, of Whitehill Primary, and his friend, Reverend James Duncan, collected more than 3,000 songs from the North East just over 100 years ago, amassing what is now regarded as one of the most important international song collections, published in eight volumes 10 years ago.

The older children have filmed a musical drama they've performed, based on the story of one of the songs, Johnnie Sangster. And tonight is Oyne's answer to the Oscars, with awards presented to children in recognition of their film performances.

The red carpet may be flecked with snow, and that looks suspiciously like an old sheet pinned to the back wall to showcase the children's movie, but the young fashionistas are out in force here, at the Back o'Bennachie, coincidentally another song title from the collection.

"Those of us who can look back to memories of our fathers and mothers speaking and singing in their native tongue can hardly be unmoved at the thought of the language and song perishing from memory," Ms Morrison says. "We have a duty to look after our natural heritage, our environment. It's equally important to look after our intangible heritage - the song and the music.

"I thought one of the most important things I had to do was to get this into schools and make people realise that this is a fantastic resource right in their backyard. But how do you present an old song to children in the 21st century? This is why we decided to make a film of the story of a song," she explains.

Drama teacher Margaret Hearne wrote the script and was the driving force behind the dramatisation, with music specialist Sharon Hassan creating a special arrangement of the song incorporating banjos, African drums, fiddles and the penny whistle. There's a CD of Johnnie Sangster being launched at tonight's performance, where children are singing live and showing their film.

"The children learned old Scots words, they learned about rhythm, the history of the harvest time, and the Greig-Duncan collection," Ms Morrison says.

Nine-year-old Jodie Burnett is playing the fiddle and appears in the DVD. "Getting to do this has been great fun. We're trying to encourage people to listen to music and get into the Doric," she says.

Headteacher Ruth Hassan says this was a cross-curricular project for P4-7, which eventually engaged the whole school. "They've learned Scottish songs, worked with a musician to produce arrangements of music, organised a whole evening of entertainment tonight and they have experienced how to make a film."

Teachers can access the Oyne DVD on Glow. http:glo.liTzdamx


Following this pilot, it is hoped that teachers across Scotland will use the Oyne experience as an inspiration for further cross-curricular learning based on the Greig-Duncan Collection of songs.

Traditional musician Sharon Hassan says children like nine-year-old Bill Whitcombe, who plays guitar, got the opportunity to learn instruments such as the banjo to play in this production too.

"A lot of the local traditional musicians would know the songs and some of the kids might have known some of them, but a lot of the children in the schools around about wouldn't be so aware of the Greig-Duncan folks songs. So this is trying to bring it to them in a fun way," Ms Hassan says.

Drama teacher Margaret Hearne, who created the script, has worked regularly on plays featuring the local Doric language with Oyne Primary children.

"It's about a young boy who's learning the crafts of harvest from plough to plate and his particular job is a bandster. He's the boy who, when the grain is cut and put into loose bundles, has to bind them and put them in a sheaf. It's quite a skilled job," Mrs Hearne says.

"I think this takes a song which very clearly delineates and exposes the processes of the hairst (harvest), which the song shares and the drama shares.

"I would do the story of Johnnie Sangster again in any school because it's so clear. Here is a boy who wants to be part of the process and he's too young to work a plough, but here is something that he can do. It's a great way for kids to learn that bread doesn't just pop out of Tesco."

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