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July 16, 2008

Island of Sanday hits the right note

The inhabitants of the island of Sanday, in Orkney, have a passion for music and fiddle music in particular. When a few key members of the Fiddle Club left the island recently, the club started to struggle. With a bit of help from one of Britain’s foremost composers, Peter Maxwell Davies who also lives on the island , a remarkable musical project evolved


On July 4, a vibrant concert celebrated the end of a week-long summer school, the culmination of the first phase of an extraordinary musical project in the Orkney island of Sanday. The main aim of project is to set up a music-teacher training programme, but also to provide additional music tuition in the school and throughout the community.

The project arose from a crisis when key members of the Sanday Fiddle Club left the island, leaving the group a bit rudderless, but with a membership (numbering around 30 and ranging in age from 7 to 60 plus) keen to carry on. After conversations with all concerned and a bit of help from resident composer, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, a four-way partnership between Sanday Development Trust, Sanday Fiddle Club, Sanday Community School and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD) developed and the wheels were set in motion.

For the past nine months, two musicians from RSAMD have been tutoring the Fiddle Club, a traditional youth band in the school, and individuals during the course of two-day residential visits. This foundation year is in preparation for the main project, which has the potential to give every child on the island, and many adults too, the opportunity to learn a musical instrument. The programme allows classical and traditional music to run in parallel, and at the end of it the next phase, all being well, at least 5 islanders will have a post graduate teaching qualification in music. Thereafter, those teachers will help to roll out a similar programme with a school in Malawi that Sanday Community School has ongoing links with.

The first phase of the Sanday Music Project has been part funded by Awards for All, the Scottish and Southern Spurness Windfarm Community Benefit Fund, and private donations.