Benbecula continues to be a base of excellence for students near and far

The latest graduates get ready to move on to bigger things.
The latest graduates get ready to move on to bigger things.

The Benbecula campus of Lews Castle College continues to be busy welcoming students onto the BA Applied Music and HNC music programmes from afar afield as Vermont in the USA.

Working with local community groups and national partners, the courses provide students with a variety of exciting and educationally rewarding experiences. In August Lews Castle College celebrated their first graduates of the BA Applied Music degree, which scored 94 per cent in the national student survey.

In October, the college performed at the internationally renowned Celtic Colours Festival in Cape Breton, Canada, under the banner of Fuaran nan Eilean – Spring of the Islands. This was a special collaboration between the college and Fèisean nan Gàidheal and featured Gaelic song and instrumental music from the islands – old and new. The Gaelic song was sourced through Fuaran, Fèisean nan Gàidheal’s innovative heritage project.

In Mabou, where many of the locals trace their heritage directly to the Hebrides, there was a performance of Anna-Wendy Stevenson’s Suite Uist, written to celebrate the achievements and innovations of 15 years of traditional music education at Lews Castle College in Benbecula.

The schools’ concert, performed at the famous Red Shoe pub, exchanged music with some of Cape Breton’s most celebrated fiddlers and enjoyed several evenings of late night performances at the Festival Club at the Gaelic College in Baddeck.

Alumni students Tom Callister and Greg Barry were a festival hit with their band Meclir who performed the closing night at the Sydney Centre 200.

The students were excellent ambassadors and we are grateful to both the University of the Highlands and Islands Student Development Fund and Fèisean Nan Gaidheal for supporting this tour.

Locally, there have been many memorable performances at Taigh Chearsabhagh this year, not least as part of the Poetry Evening with Scotland’s Makar, Jackie Kay. At the monthly Taigh Ciuil events, Ross Hull’s direction of a composition showcase stood out as a fascinating and beautifully presented concert, with compositions from all students.

Week to week, students are engaging with community groups and individuals, providing guitar and accordion lessons as part of after school programmes, fèisean and privately at the college.

This is a wonderful opportunity to gain experience teaching, and for community members to learn. There have been monthly Saturday afternoon performances at Lionacleit Library and spontaneous sessions at the Westford Inn.

In November, students came from the mainland to participate in a new project, in collaboration with the Coisir Ghaidhlig Uibhist, workshops in choir arranging and conducting led by Mary Ann Kennedy.

Students are arranging traditional Gaelic song which will be performed by Coisir Ghaidhlig Uibhist in February, recorded and made into a radio programme for An Radio.

Some may remember the Uist and Barra schools’ workshops in March delivered by Bournemouth Soundstorm Music Agency collaborators, musicians and songwriter Alex Roberts and Dan Somogyi.

The duo were shadowed by students who learned about workshop delivery in creative song writing inspired by landscape and place for children.

This was followed by a tour to England, with a sold-out performance at the Lighthouse in Poole showcasing new compositions. On January 28, 2017 the college teams up with Dan and Alex to launch the CD of the Far Flung Collective and Anna-Wendy’s Suite Uist as part of the Celtic Connections Festival.

Congratulations go to Cameron Grant who has been awarded the Lews Castle College Student of the Year.

Cameron is founder of the South Uist Folk club and has devised an exciting programme of musical guests this year, including Daimh, MG ALBA Scots TradMusic Awards, Robbie Greig Band, Mary Ann Kennedy and Finlay Wells.

The South Uist Folk Club will recommence in February with guest piper Allan MacDonald.

Last year students Robbie Grieg and Murray Willis were finalists in the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician competition.

Graduates are in the MG ALBA Scots Trad Music Awards ‘Up and Coming Act of the Year’ with their band Tannara.

For updates on Lews Castle College events, visit: website