Curriculum for The X Factor

24th September 2010 at 01:00

On a cold January evening in 2009, the Scottish Qualifications Authority held its own homecoming celebration with a Burns supper at Glasgow's Oran Mor venue. The great and good of Scotland's education and training scene had come together not just to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Burns's birth, but to experience at first hand some of Scotland's next generation of musical talent.

But if the traditional elements of the evening were dispensed with a little too routinely, the musical performances from some of Scotland's most vibrant and talented young musicians - every one of them still at school - took the celebrations to a new dimension, brought into sharper relief 18 months on.

For it was in this hall that a young girl now very much in the public eye, Gamu Nhengu, brought stunned silence to a mixed crowd of some of Scotland's leading lights in education. With more than competent backing from Piperoch, a school band in the Red Hot Chilli Pipers mould, Gamu (pictured) sang a hauntingly beautiful rendition of one of Burns's greatest love songs, "Ae Fond Kiss", leaving not a dry eye in the house. A star was perhaps not born that night, but one was recognised.

Even if the sentiment and wonder of that winter's evening is now long forgotten, what now for brave and talented Gamu, a young girl who has already faced many challenges in her short life, as she faces an uncertain future once more at the hands of the voting public and the X Factor judges?

For what must be remembered, as we face almost four gruelling months of the show, is that for all its pretensions, The X Factor is first and foremost entertainment. We must hope Gamu recognises the potential pitfalls as much as the potential, but we should also recognise that it is Scotland's education system which helped her reach this stage. For every success like Gamu, there are hundreds of other young people in Scotland who have benefited in different ways from a wide range of creative experiences from music and drama to dance and film-making.

These creative experiences can more than ably support the delivery of Curriculum for Excellence, by providing opportunities for cross-curricular learning and offering greater breadth of achievement across a wider range of skills.

What's more, such creative practice is preserving for future generations long-established musical traditions in contemporary settings. Take, for example, Kilairum, from St Mary's Music School in Edinburgh, also on the bill with Gamu that evening in 2009. With strong backing from a trio on guitar, drums and bass, pupils Mairi Chaimbeul and Emily Hoile astonished the audience with their skill, dexterity and professionalism on the clarsach. It was a truly world-class performance.

What I took away from the evening more than anything was a hope in my own heart that, throughout Scotland, our young people are getting the greatest possible chances to develop as individuals. And let us hope too that the young people of Scotland will always have a platform on which to share their talents, whatever they might be.

But back to Gamu who, most poignantly of all that evening in 2009, finally led a stirring arrangement of possibly the greatest homecoming song of them all, Dougie MacLean's "Caledonia". I doubt if it will make it to The X Factor, but I couldn't help but reflect that this song was given greater poignancy through the voice of a girl who herself finds she is far from home.

Alasdair Smith, is creative industries manager for Skills Development Scotland.

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