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Sing a song for Shetland

Islands find their voice to keep their dialect alive

"Dee irnoo mony a sweeter soond dan young eens singin, un no mony a bonnier soond dan wir ain dialect. Dis is a super example a wiys ta tyeep wir dialect living."

So says Hazel Sutherland, executive director for education and social care in Shetland, in her written introduction to Evergreen - Dialect Sangs for Schools.

A new resource pack for primary teachers, featuring a singalong CD of 14 songs in the dialect, Evergreen was put together by the primary schools' singing instructor and dialect speaker, Maria Barclay Millar. She sings on the CD to a guitar accompaniment by her father, musician and songwriter Eddie Barclay.

Maria, who is employed to teach mainstream and dialect singing, says: "Many people in Shetland - natives and incomers - feel very strongly about the importance of preserving and promoting our dialect, and one of the simplest ways of doing that is through singing.

"I identified a gap, because there are Shetland song books but no tapes or discs to go with them - and we put together a project proposal to the Scottish Arts Council's youth music initiative fund. We got the go-ahead about 18 months ago."

Working on the project with three primary schools, Maria has produced a pack which includes the singalong CD, lyrics to all 14 songs, plus a "Whit da wirds mean" glossary for each one, as well as simple worksheets with questions relating to the songs and pictures to colour in. The CD was recorded in Lerwick at Anderson High's recording studio.

The target audience was P6 but, as Maria explains, "the resource pack is good for P3-7 and even nursery to P2, because there are actions to some of the songs, such as rowing and using glove puppets".

Since they got the go-ahead, Maria has set up dialect choirs in the three pilot primaries, as well as an after-school dialect singing club.

Following the January launch of Evergreen at Shetland Museum, where pupils sang songs from the CD to an invited audience, Maria has embarked on the final element of the project: delivering a workshop to every one of Shetland's 33 primary schools, to introduce teachers to the new resource which includes traditional and modern songs.

Anne Peters, headteacher at Nesting Primary, which was involved in the pilot, says: "I was keen to get involved, because I think any kind of singing is good for children. I was in a youth choir when I was at school in England and I loved it. Singing also comes into A Curriculum for Excellence under the 'wider achievement' element."

Ms Peters is not from Shetland, but believes it is important to keep the dialect alive.

"The whole school wanted to be part of the dialect choir, including the older boys, and that's been possible because we only have 25 pupils here," she says.

"The dialect speakers have loved it and so have the non-speakers, because they've been able to pick up words. So it's been a learning and sharing project which has given a boost to the whole school.

"Once the children have learnt the songs, they'll stay with them for years and pass them on to their own children. So funding for a project like this is a real investment."

E: maria.millar@shetland.gov.uk.

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