The biggest and brightest annual winter music festival in Scotland, Celtic Connections, which opened on Wednesday, boasts a rich repertoire of traditional and contemporary music. Equally important is its biggest education programme to date.
Alongside headlining names of international repute such as Aly Bain, Carlos Nunez, The Dubliners, Eric Bogle, Kare Rusby, Maria McKee, Phil Cunningham, Richard Thompson, Steeleye Span and The Waterboys, there are 10 free schools concerts and some 50 free in-school workshops, all featuring weel-kent professional musicians and budding artists from Scotland and beyond. This represents a significant expansion from last year's six school concerts and 23 workshops.
The morning concerts, which are held in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall and attract schools from as far away as Dumfries and Galloway, Fife, Edinburgh, Stirling and Perth, kicked off yesterday with a return visit by Le Vent du Nord from Canada, whose multi-instrumental and four-part vocals are recommended for nursery to P3 children. It also featured music and songs from the festival's outreach musicians, who visit Glasgow schools throughout the year, and a special performance by Gill Bowman with pupils from Parkhead Primary.
Also recommended for nursery to P3 pupils are Dchas (January 17), whose members come from as far afield as Donegal and Shetland. They sing and play pipes, accordion and piano, among other instruments, and specialise in Gaelic harmonies.
Upper primary and lower secondary pupils are able to choose concerts from a range featuring the Celtic Fiddle Festival (today), Danish fiddler Henrik Jansberg (January 16), Gr da, a contemporary Irish fusion of Celtic, jazz, gypsy, Latin and east European styles (January 18), cutting-edge dance groovers the Peatbog Faeries (January 20), the great Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell (January 23), the multi-instrumentalist Annie Grace, who will lead a celebration of Robert Burns (January 25), and the sizzling seven-piece Irish line-up that is Danu (January 27).
New talent is promoted too and this year comes from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, the University of Newcastle, the Carl Nielsen Music Academy in Odense and the Irish World Music Centre in Limerick (Crossing Borders, January 24, for P4-P7 pupils).
The 50 workshops now being held in Glasgow schools are aimed at primary and nursery pupils. Festival guests and professional musicians are leading music, singing, storytelling and discovery sessions where children can try Celtic instruments for themselves. The popularity of the workshops can be gauged from the 150 applications received.
Ten workshops mark the launch of a year-long project, delivered in partnership with Live Music Now!, to take traditional Scottish music into some of Glasgow's special needs schools.
"Through all these workshops we want to connect the children of Glasgow with Scottish culture and music and get them involved in music, dance and storytelling," says Celtic Connections' education officer, Tom Dalzell.
"Primary schools probably don't get the chance to encourage traditional music as much as secondaries, where it is taught as part of the curriculum.
Not all primaries have a music specialist. So I feel our contribution is very important."
Everyone - pupils and teachers - takes part in the workshops, the twin aims being not only to expose pupils to music, dance and storytelling, but also to inspire confidence in teachers to carry on and build on the experience in their classrooms.
"Everyone has the right to be involved in music," says Mr Dalzell. "Any young person can be taught a simple tune on the whistle in 15 minutes.
"The crime of education in the past was to tell a young person they were tone deaf or had no rhythm. We all have rhythm to some degree and all our ears can be trained. It may be a matter of learning styles, but that's why, in our workshops, everyone takes part, irrespective of supposed or perceived levels of musical ability."
With the establishment of the Scottish music degree course at the RSAMD and the applied music degree at Strathclyde University, which includes traditional music, Mr Dalzell believes more traditional music specialists will go into teaching.
"I'd like to see a traditional music specialist in every secondary school,"
Celtic Connections, until January 29www.celticconnections.com