The hills are alive with the sound of traditional music. Angus Macdonald reports on the revival of an old art
For Duncan Ferguson, rector of Plockton High, the choice of the school to house the new national centre of excellence in traditional music is no more than obvious good sense.
"This area is strong in traditional music," he says. "There are probably more exponents of traditional music per head of population in Skye and Lochalsh than anywhere else in Scotland. In Plockton High we have around 30 students out of 320 who are good enough to play the pipes at weddings and other public occasions."
The first year's intake of nine students from S1 to S6, which is planned to rise to 20 a year, is integrated into the normal school day. They have two periods a week of music tuition, another two hours each evening and one weekend each month of intensive tuition. They stay in the hostel with another 15 students throughout the week and can go home at weekends, except when there is special tuition.
There is commitment from the authorities - pound;650,000 over three years from the Scottish Executive and further support from Highland Council.
The music tutors are all well-known: Blair Douglas (accordion), Ingrid Henderson (clarsach), Mary Ann Kennedy (song), Iain MacFadyen (bagpipes), Iain MacFarlane (fiddle) and Andy Thorburn (piano). The director is Dougie Pincock, a former member of the Battlefield Band, who teaches the whistle.
Mr Pincock stresses the importance of limiting umbers so that students fit into the life of the school. "We are not necessarily preparing full-time professional musicians, but people with a good knowledge of the musical tradition and an ability to pass it on. There could be a trend of students in S6 coming here to sharpen their musical skills before going to university."
Ewan Robertson from Carrbridge, who is in sixth year, has applied to do a degree in applied music at Strathclyde University and will have an audition in March. He was already playing the bagpipes and fiddle, but found the Plockton opportunity too good to miss. "It offers intensive and brilliant tuition." His ambition is to do outdoor edu-cation after university, teaching sailing, rock climbing, kayaking and ski-ing and combining that with music.
Calum Beaton from Bishopbriggs is also in S6 and is learning the pipes and whistle. He has already secured a place at Perth College to do a Higher National Diploma in traditional music, after which he wants to join Strathclyde's finest - and play for the police pipe band.
Mr Ferguson believes they have already surmounted the first hurdle. "It is difficult sometimes to graft something like this onto an existing school but we have accomplished that and it is well integrated into school life. It will be fascinating in five years' time to do a 'where are they now?' follow-up on the students."
Things are already looking up : the centre has had more than 20 enquiries for the 14 places available next year.