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  • Writer's pictureLiza Mulholland

Ceilidh Trail paves the way for stars of the future.

In the midst of dreich, grey weather and weekly storms, summer might seem very far away but there are excellent reasons to cast our thoughts ahead to some superb opportunities for youngsters over July and August. Applications are open now, and auditions underway, for places on several local cèilidh trails, the summer job with a difference, for young people interested in developing their skills and experience as performing musicians.

Organised and run by local Fèisean, the aim is to furnish young musicians with professional development opportunities, through touring and performing on their home patch and beyond, and in a variety of settings and venues. The trails on our doorstep include Nairn’s Fèis Inbhir Narainn Caledonian Cèilidh Trail whose applications are open now, Fèis Rois whose auditions are underway, and the Cairngorms Cèilidh Trail run by Fèis Spè within the Cairngorm National Park.

For senior school pupils and students, whose playing or singing is at an appropriate level, a cèilidh trail tour gives a supported taste of life on the road (with leader, driver, accommodation, meals etc provided) as well as the chance to share their skills and enthusiasm with a wide audience. And it’s paid!

Some youngsters may be considering a career in traditional music and the cèilidh trail experience provides a kind of stepping-stone between studying and launching a career as a performing artiste – an invaluable insight into the demands, challenges and joys of being a professional musician.

Training sessions ahead of a tour include workshops on putting together varied sets of tunes and songs, performance skills, live sound, calling dances and stage presentation, so the youngsters hit the road equipped with confidence, knowledge and skills, as well as bags of talent.

Some cèilidh trails take their participants beyond Scotland to England, France and even Australia, to perform at high profile festivals and events, with the chance to collaborate with other young musicians in cultural exchanges.

For those on the receiving end, across the length and breadth of Scotland, it’s an absolute treat to hear these youngsters play. Whether in a village hall, historic site, music venue or local café, they bring fun and enjoyment to visitors and locals alike, and it’s so heart-warming to witness a new generation of young people taking traditional music forward with such passion.

Usually co-ordinated by Fèisean who work with local businesses and promoters, cèilidh trails are also the kind of cultural tourism offering that contribute to a uniquely Scottish experience. Bringing quality music to places where visitors are, over the summer months, gives them an insight into our cultural heritage, an aspect of holiday experience usually rated highly by tourists.

Many of today’s acclaimed young traditional artistes were trail participants at one time, testament to the success of the Fèis movement and the cèilidh trail initiative that started over twenty years ago. Friendships and connections made during such projects will also often be lasting, as the bonds forged playing music together are strong ones.

Being paid to play music over the holidays has surely got to be the best possible summer job? Such things didn’t exist when I was a teenager and I spent my summers working in Inverness hospitals as a domestic - a great experience where I saw and learned lots, gaining many life skills in the process - but what wouldn’t I have given to have the chance to be part of a tour playing music instead!

So, do look out for a cèilidh trail rolling into your town or village, and go out to support these young minstrels if you can. And if you have a talented teenager at home or know of a young person aged 16 – 22 who would benefit from a musical summer job, a good place to start would be the website for Nairn’s Caledonian Cèilidh Trail run by Fèis Inbhir Narainn for two weeks over July and August.

(First published by Scottish Provincial Press 21st February 2020)

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