Despite a few setbacks, the annual Northlands Festival was a success. Kenny Mathieson reports
Financial and logistical restraints meant there was no large-scale community production featuring local school children at this year's Northlands Festival in Caithness. The annual event, which celebrates the artistic connections between Scotland and the Nordic countries, was also hit by the late withdrawal of a music theatre production for children and one of the main education projects, involving Norwegian Brazz Brothers.
That left the education and community programme looking bereft. Mary Miller, director of the festival, responded by increasing the number of school workshops and persuading artists to fill the gaps.
"It's my belief that the education element is particularly crucial for this festival," she says. "The teachers and local workers do a fantastic job and that is reflected in the number of children from the area who go on to music and drama college or art school.
"It would not be possible to mount our programmes without their work, but what we have to do is offer education events which are at a higher level than is usually available. We are greatly helped in that by the amazing willingness of the Nordic artists to do virtually anything we ask. They are less rigid in their thinking, I find, and bring a fresh perspective."
The schools' programme began before the September 21-26 festival, with workshops on circus skills in Wick and Thurso by the members of Von Kriegenbaum's Family Circus. The multi-skilled troupe from Denmark encompassed not only acrobats and clowns but also storytellers.
A young Finn, Tarmo Rouhiainen, also engaged a nursery class at Wick South Primary with his quiet telling of Moomins stories and Finnish songs.
Bobby Wishart of the National Jazz Institute led a public jazz and blues workshop in Wick, and the Anglo-Swedish Kungsbacka Piano Trio took on school workshops in Wick and Thurso at short notice. Pertinent questions from a class of 10-year-old pupils at Wick North Primary suggested the trio had made an impression. They pitched their introduction to the instruments and sounds of classical music at just the right level to engage a class whose avowed musical tastes run to SClub 7 and Atomic Kitten.
A piping festival in Wick Old Parish Church featured a masterclass by John Burgess, a soft-spoken Scot with a dry sense of humour and firm views on piping. The participants ranged from 11-year-old novices to professional pipers, but most were school children eager to polish their skills and have deficiencies corrected by a man with a lifetime of experience.
The festival organisers have introduced a writing competition. All residents of the Highland region are invited to write a poem of up to 40 lines or a saga of up to 500 words on "Northern Sea, Northern Sky" to be read aloud. Shortlisted entries will be compiled in a special publication. The deadline is November 30; details and entry forms from www.northlands.org or the festival office, tel 01955 606660.