I have wanted to attend Feis Rois for a long time. When I first took up my fiddle again, about twenty years ago, my two children were quite small and I didn't feel I could escape for a whole long weekend to myself. Goodness knows why - I must have been a bit mad. The years passed, I wondered about going but never got organised. Then, around New Year time this year, an old school friend got in touch. She picked up her fiddle again last year; hers had collected more dust than mine, although perhaps that has made her even more determined to play again. "Let's go to the Feis!" she said. I didn't need to be asked twice. We were best friends right through school, from Primary 6 to sixth year. Competing in class, spurring each other on to study hard and, oh yes, sitting beside each other in the second violins in the school orchestra.
So, on Friday 4th May we travelled to Ullapool (by road, not ferry, contrary to appearances from the photo above), booked into our lovely B&B with views out over the sea towards the Summer Isles, and headed to the High School to register for the Feis. To describe the Feis, I am borrowing some words from their website - "a weekend bursting with music, song and dance and a stellar team of tutors to inspire participants of all levels". And that is exactly what it was, and more. Although I've been playing fiddle and, more recently, mandolin on and off for twenty years, I chose to attend a beginners' harp class. I went to this every morning. It was wonderful. There were only six of us in the class; all keen to learn and loving every minute of the new experience. Rachel Newton was our tutor - she was so patient, kind and full of laughter. And a great teacher! "Thumbs up, fingers down" became our mantra. The time flew by; we learnt a tune by ear, and the beginnings of a second one. Several of the class asked where they might acquire a clarsach so they could carry on....
Afternoons were spent doing group work under the expert tutoring of Lauren MacColl, along with Mairearad Green and Signy Jakobsdottir. I played my fiddle. We had a chance to play some of the music from The Seer, a new composition by Lauren, commissioned by Feis Rois. I learnt a lot, including the fact that a tenor horn sounds great in traditional music, 3 x 4 = 12 (I did know that, but this involved drumsticks and chair backs) and that an accordion can make a sound like waves on the shore.
It wasn't all about the music. Mostly it was, to be fair. But sustenance was required. Coffee breaks in the morning were a highlight, with volunteers serving endless cheerful mugs of tea and coffee, and fabulous, substantial homebakes seeing us through until lunchtime. The whole weekend was marvellous; there was a concert with The Shee and The Seer on the Saturday evening and a tutors' concert the following one. There were sessions in the pubs all through the town, which went on into the small hours. Tunes were shared, songs sung and I left feeling replenished, refreshed and inspired. The icing on the cake for me, however, was succeeding in encouraging (not single-handedly, I admit) a reluctant joiner-in to do so. The look of glee on his face after just one workshop was a joy to behold. That, for me, is what playing music together should be all about. A fun and enjoyable experience, shared with others.
I'm looking forward to next year already!