It’s been worth the wait to see traditional music back


TENTATIVE steps towards getting ‘back to normal’ have been taken by the Comhaltas branches in Scotland as the organisation looks to reboot the cultural music scene in the country.

As with many other activities, teaching classes in traditional music and song in person has been an impossible task for the past 18 months due to Covid-19, however, branches in the past few weeks have taken their first in person lessons since the beginning of the pandemic and hope to continue expanding their work over the coming months.

The arts have been a sector that has been decimated by the pandemic and whilst certain industries were given some form of relief last summer, such as the hospitality sector opening up over the summer months, live music within venues wasn’t afforded the same easing of restrictions.The same was true for traditional music classes, which, for the past entire academic year, have existed only online.

Online platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet, which provide the environment for online teaching, have improved their services in the past year when it comes to music. Their advancements meant that the service, which was originally designed to block out background noise—including music—to aid the spoken word could be transformed into a learning portal for music was a huge step forward in keeping lessons going throughout the otherwise culturally bleak period.

Whilst these developments have been welcomed, there has always been a sense that whilst it may be the best we have, online teaching doesn’t quite capture the experience of learning in a physical class alongside peers.

That social interaction and sense of belonging, alongside being able to have a much closer interaction with each other is a big part of traditional music and it’s great to have it back, albeit in limited ways.

The relaxation of restrictions in Scotland now permits musical activities indoors however, for the short term at least, several local authorities, including Glasgow City Council, have a moratorium on evening and weekend lets for school buildings, which are traditionally the venues for many of the local music classes.

This has caused several of the branches in Scotland to look for new temporary homes for classes and inventive ways of bringing their members back together again.

St James the Great CCÉ (above) have taken up residence in Clydesdale Cricket Club for their new classes on Monday evenings. Moving away from individual instrument-based classes to mixed instrument classes divided over experience level has meant that the whole group can be accommodated across three sittings in the evening. The change being a necessary consequence of having fewer individual spaces available, but the upside, without doubt, is having the young and old enjoying being able to play together.

Weather permitting, St James the Great are also taking advantage of the venue’s outdoor space by having an outdoor session—again keeping that social element to music alive.

St Patrick’s CCE in Coatbridge have adopted a similar format to mixed instrument classes for their Saturday morning gatherings in St Augustine’s Hall. Whilst musically the setup is great, one casualty of the new format has been the much-loved tea and tuck shop the branch have run since their foundation. We all long for a return to those cakes!

For Irish Minstrels CCÉ and Johnny Doherty CCÉ, classes are remaining an online weekly occurrence for now—hopefully school lets will become a reality once again after the mid-term break.

With many of the weekly Glasgow pub sessions now back in full flow across the city, there is optimism that traditional music is on the road back to normality.

Online tuition has ensured that in the coming months, musicians aren’t having to make up for lost time due to continuing their tuition throughout the pandemic, but when it comes to sharing a tune or song with friends, it’s been worth the wait!

Paddy Callaghan is the Scottish Region Development Officer for Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. You can follow him on Twitter: @paddy_box and Instagram: paddy_box