Steònabhagh Àllain: Beautiful Stornoway – student blog by April Sutherland

Join first year student April on her recent trip to Stornoway for the applied music residential at UHI Outer Hebrides and performances at An Lanntair:  

I arrived on Sunday night to get some rest and a good practice session in for Tuesday’s exam before all of the others arrived on the Monday morning ferry. We all met at UHI Outer Hebrides Stornoway campus on Monday and Anna-Wendy gave a welcome to us all before we got on with some sessions. Our first workshop was on performance stress and anxiety from Hez – he is great at what he does and puts things across in a very interactive way and taught us to try and make friends with our anxiety and use it in our performance for the better. We were then served gorgeous crepes at breaktime with as many toppings as you could think of!!  

Next, we had our session workshop with Anna-Wendy, we got to hear and learn some of her top ten session tunes. After this I also went to Anna Murray’s Gaelic song workshop. She was a fantastic teacher, and we all learnt a waulking song together called “Hè mo Leannan”. This was my favourite workshop of the week! When walking back into the town from the campus, Fraser and I decided to have a practice of our song for the showcase concert on Thursday, we played outside Lews Castle and took some nice pictures and a video for our socials!  

In the evening it was time for the first of the honours performances. We had Edie and Emilia who both equally blew me away! 

Day two was exam day. It was quite early in the morning, so I was up to UHI Outer Hebrides campus nice and early. Exam went ok I think, fingers crossed! There was a huge feeling of relief, and I was ready to get on and enjoy the rest of the week! I managed to catch the last while of Allan’s song class when back in town and then myself and some of the other first years got some lunch from the Stornoway Street Food Café which was glè mhath! (very good)!  

After this it was back to An Lanntair for step dancing, which I loved!! We had Anna-Wendy playing the fiddle for us while we danced which made it an even more authentic experience! Then we all went back to the campus for Allan’s talk on supernatural folklore of the Highlands and Islands. I’m really glad I went to this as I was absolutely mesmerised listening to Allan’s stories for the whole time, we were with him! It was amazing! He talked about stories local to me and stories involving people that I know personally, which made it even more interesting! At night-time we were treated to James’ composition portfolio performed live. This involved lots of hilarious travel stories as always with James and everyone loved it.  

Student James Bauld performing at An Lanntair

Wednesday morning we spent with Allan learning some tunes! It was a great workshop, and we learnt a handful of tunes and of course as always with Allan, had lots of stories!! The rest of the day was a little more chilled. We watched some more honours performances at lunchtime and then I did some study for my Gaelic class outside of the course in An Lanntair. In the afternoon some of us in first year were very lucky to have the opportunity to practice on the stage in An Lanntair with microphones etc. set up also. It was a great opportunity and we had such fun as this was the first time we’d ever played together.  

At night we listened to the gorgeous singing of Melissa. She sang a set of all her own songs and accompanied herself, it was just magical. After this it was session time! We all gathered in McNeills and played tunes until the wee hours. There was a fire alarm while we were there and being music students… Ben and Daisy actually managed to play along with the noise in the same pitch!! Spot the music students in the room!  

Showcase day!! I took part in Peter’s song writing class in the morning and really enjoyed it. I’ve never written a song and therefore learnt a lot and am currently in the process of writing my first song! We were very lucky to have the chance to have a chat with the CEO of An Lanntair in the afternoon, it was such an informative hour, and he was so helpful with how we should approach arts centres and venues like An Lanntair for gigs. Then it was one last honours performance before our soundcheck. At night we had our showcase concert in An Lanntair. This was amazing!!! I played alongside Fraser and we performed our song Angel Plays Dead. It was so well received, and it was so lovely to be able to play it live! Thursday was also open mic night in McNeills and lots of us sang songs and played tunes to those there! 

Friday morning kickstarted with a 9am honours performance from Robert who managed to come back to the island after rushing home to see the birth of his little girl!! Robert performed all his own songs, and it was a great way to end the week. Anna-Wendy said a final goodbye and we all parted ways! Myself and some of the other first years visited the Lews Castle Museum on the way back into town before the ferry. We had good fun on the ferry and were lucky enough to get to watch a coastguard exercise happen in the middle of the Minch! Over the course of the week I learnt SO much from those around me and was totally blown away by those doing their honours performances. We were meant to take part in at least three workshops over the course of the week and I managed to squash in nine so I was delighted with that. I have come home feeling totally energised and inspired and am in the process of forming a band with some fellow course friends!

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