Facing the Music: The World comes to Scotland
The root of throat singing is human mimicry of nature's sounds; Bulgarians have a preference for music sung in a way that is close to natural speech; and musicians in Africa's Mandinka culture are thought to have deep powers, so if you have a disagreement, you call upon the "jali" to sing and play for your cause.
This just scratches the surface of what the 9,000 school children involved in the Love Music Festival learned earlier this month. Some, like the P1 and P2 children from Canongate Primary in Fife, also made and played their own saxophones; others created a "pylican", a musical instrument made from a large table, bamboo poles, tin cans, string, bottles of water and chip forks.
The Love Music Festival was the brain child of composer and educator Stephen Deazley. For two weeks it presented some of the most renowned musicians of the highest calibre from across the world to young people all over Scotland, many of whom were hearing the different genres for the first time.
"I asked myself a simple question - are there cultural and educational opportunities for our children to meet the best and most inspiring musicians from across the globe?" said Mr Deazley. "The answer is no. So why not? From this grew the philosophy behind the festival."
But it was not enough for the musicians to be great; they also had to be engaging. "The performers all have a natural charm," he said. "We wanted an eclectic mix of musicians, but it was also about finding that nebulous, brilliant spark that great performers have, because when you see a great performer it does something indescribable."
The festival line-up featured 11 groups and soloists from nine countries, including Tuvan throat singers Huun Huur Tu, the Eva Quartet from Bulgaria, Mamadou Diabate from Mali, and a harmonica quartet from Finland called Svang. Performances began on November 1 and culminated two weeks later in a family day, featuring live music from all the artists, in Inverness.
The festival visited Fife, East Ayrshire, Highland, Aberdeenshire, Shetland, the Borders and the Western Isles, with four individual days tailored for specific age groups. "Green Pea" was aimed at four to seven-year-olds; "Balkan Mash" and "Sonic Harmonic" at eight to 13-year-olds; and "Electric Loops" at 14 to 18-year-olds. Between numbers, animateurs unlocked the ideas behind the music, and gave the youngsters clues and ways of understanding the background from which the melodies grew.
Before the children reached the festival venues, they were involved in workshops and had the chance to sample the sounds of the different artists via a website. They also learned more about the bands, and the countries and cultures that bred them. The website even allowed them to experiment with music themselves, using the Map Mixer. Described as "an intuitive digital music mixer", it enables users to create their own music from a bank of pre-recorded sounds.
Mr Deazley spoke to The TESS from Kilmarnock, where the festival was being held at the 500-seater Palace Theatre and Grand Hall complex. As well as performances in the main auditorium, there were break-out rooms where pupils could interview the artists and make music, using the movement of their bodies and colour.
In Shetland, the venue was less grand: a community hall and kitchen, but the 220 children still enjoyed each show.
Mr Deazley, a composer by trade, has studied music all his life and has always been a collaborator, working with world musicians. But this, he said, was not the kind of music young people were exposed to. "The music featured in the festival is not driven by money, fame or how many times it is downloaded onto an iPod. It is not disposable pop," he said. "What drives these musicians is a love of their traditions. Maybe by bringing this music to young people, they will begin to explore for themselves."
Five of the 10 pupils who attend Inverie Primary in Knoydart made the journey to Inverness by ferry and car to see Sonic Harmonic and Balkan Mash. The nine to 11-year-olds were the perfect age to "absorb different types of music" and "sponge everything up", said teaching head Eilidh Klemm.
The children were used to a very vibrant ceilidh culture and to Scottish music, she said, but this project was a real "ear-opener". "They were really interested to be confronted with different music, different scales and modes. They are seeing the possibilities and they want to listen," she said. They were particularly taken with the African instrument, the kora, a 21-string harp-like instrument played with the thumb and first fingers.
"This experience has certainly broadened their minds," said Ms Klemm. It has also broadened her own horizons. She is a great music lover and plays the piano, but her expertise lies in classical music and until now that is what she has been most comfortable with. "I'll feel more confident now taking the kids in different directions."
The organisers hope to turn the event into a biennial UK-wide project.