Feis Rois making waves with traditional music

Fèis Rois is helping to turn the tide for traditional music in Scotland through its innovative work with young people and vibrant Gaelic culture and arts programmes.

Scotland is known internationally for its traditional music.

But we might have been singing a different tune, if it wasn’t for organisations such as Fèis Rois. Not only does it provide a wide range of tuition in the traditional arts and Gaelic culture for young people – and adults too – but it offers work to professional musicians, while giving young people the opportunity to discover what it would be like to have a career in music.

Fèis Rois – fèis means ‘festival’ in Gaelic – was set up almost 30 years ago with support from a small group of enthusiastic individuals and Ross & Cromarty District Council. Now led by chief executive Fiona Dalgetty, herself a former Fèis Rois participant, the organisation is going from strength to strength.

‘Fèis Rois was launched in Ullapool in 1986, when fewer than 60 children came along,’ says Fiona. ‘Since then it has grown hugely and we now have a significant turnover, close to £1 mil lion, and work with more than 3,000 young people every year, over a whole range of different programmes.

‘We have about 200 children coming to after-school workshops every week and about 300 young people attending residential courses. We also have a lot of pupils engaged in music programmes in schools, which we do in partnership with local authorities across Scotland, through the Scottish Government’s Youth Music Initiative programme.

‘Everything we do is in collaboration with others, including working together to address areas of concern such as talent retention in rural areas. Many of our 16- to 25-year-olds go to Glasgow or further afield to music schools and often don’t come back here to work. So we’re looking at offering opportunities so people can make a living as an artist or musician here in the Highlands. We are making progress.’

Renowned Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis is one such musician. ‘Julie co-ordinated the first year of our ceilidh trail project, which has been really successful,’ explains Fiona.

‘It’s a professional development opportunity for young people thinking about a career in music, where they experience what it’s like to be a touring musician. But the other side of that project is that we take high-quality traditional music perfor mances to communities across Scotland through out July and August, giving visitors the chance to experience Scottish culture.’

Part of the organisation’s success is down to the fact that it’s constantly growing and innovating, which includes commissioning new pieces and working internationally.

‘We have a group of young people out in Australia at the moment on a partnership project with the National Celtic Festival. And former Fèis Rois participant John Somerville has written a really lovely suite of music inspired by the voyage of the Hector, a ship that left Ullapool in 1773 and sailed to Canada.’

There is no doubt that Fèis Rois has helped turn the tide for traditional music in Scotland, and it’s a wave of creativity that is sure to keep on flowing.

For more details visit www.feisrois.org

(This feature was originally published in 2015)