Ceol Alba: the music of Scotland

On Monday 29 June, club member Liz Hands was telling me what a lot of fun she had at the most recent Ceol Alba get-together. Since I don’t speak the gaelic, I didn’t immediately twig, but once she mentioned Lynne Scott, things clicked into place.

Lynne is a very active Wellington musician and Scottish Country Dance band leader, who is also Music Adviser to the NZ Branch of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society. Club members who don’t know her will get to see her and enjoy her music at Johnsonville’s shared annual dance on 22 August 2020.

What is Ceol Alba? It’s a group organised by Lynne for those who love playing Scottish music for their own enjoyment, rather than as performers. They play not just dance music, but also airs, marches, laments, waltzes, and polkas!

At past gatherings, Johnsonville club member Liz Hands has played double bass, but this time no double bass was available. Happily for Liz, Lynne produced a flute, and Liz played the flute for the first time since 1970 – and enjoyed every minute of it. Others in the group played fiddles, guitars, drums and percussion.

Liz first got involved with Scottish music making at a workshop Lynne ran last year, which Johnsonville club members Désirée Patterson and Helen Thompson also attended.

Helen, Lynne and Liz playing at the 2019 workshop

Lynne’s next workshop for dancers and interested musicians is on Sunday 26 July, from 2-4pm in Lower Hutt. All welcome.

You are also welcome to attend Ceol Alba’s monthly meetings. Lynne keeps it low pressure to make it fun for music-makers of all levels. To find out more, check out the Ceol Alba website, or email Lynne. You can also read more about Scottish music in Lynne’s music articles on the RSCDS NZ website.

Ceol Alba has now been running for thirteen years. Read Lynne’s story below about the group’s origins and the ceilidh band that grew out of it.

from Kristin Downey

The origins of Ceol Alba

I started Ceol Alba at the beginning of 2007. The impetus grew from my involvement in the Scottish Country Dance community in Wellington, where I have been dancing and playing for some years – I really love playing for dancing.

But aside from playing for dances, there was literally nowhere else where folk could get together and play tunes on a regular basis. There was at the time, an annual fiddle school, and the Irish community had a couple of pubs in Wellington where you could go and join in if you knew the tunes. But Irish music is mostly very different from Scottish, and I know what I prefer!

The name Ceol Alba was suggested by a member of the Gaelic Club who came along to see what was going on. I have been told since that we neither spell nor pronounce it correctly(!!) but I’ve opted to leave it as it is. It means ‘the music of Scotland’.

Initially we met twice a month but this settled into a monthly meeting (fourth Friday) pattern fairly quickly. Our gatherings vary in size, from maybe only 2 or 3, up to a high of 22. That one has never been repeated! In fact, recruiting members is an ongoing challenge. Some have been superbly loyal, but It’s always good to see some new faces.

You can see from the tunes on the Ceol Alba website that I try to cover the gamut of styles in Scottish music, not just jigs, reels and strathspeys. I’ve been a bit slack about keeping the music on the website up to date, but I still send out a new tune, almost every month.

Meetings usually consist of the group playing the new tune over several times, and I will suggest technical tips to fiddlers and accordionists to help make it more playable. (I play fiddle, accordion and piano.) Then as we’re usually in a circle, we go round the circle, each in turn choosing a tune or a set that they’d like to play. I keep the speeds to the level of the less able most of the time, though I’ll let the fiddlers have their head on occasion!

I’ve been adamant that the club is just that – a club for people to enjoy playing Scottish music under as little pressure as possible. We don’t do performances or play for dancing. However, when a need for a Ceilidh band arose in about 2008, by then I had a pool of musicians who had a common repertoire and were keen to put themselves forward.

So the dance band Schiehallion was formed. It’s had a pretty stable line-up from the start: accordion (me), two fiddles, flute, drums, piano and guitar. We play several times a year for weddings/parties/social, teaching the dances and playing lively tunes for the punters.

In fact, we were in Dunedin right at the end of February, to play at Larnach Castle for a group of Reelers who were travelling in New Zealand. I’m so glad we got that in before the world turned upside down! It was enormous fun.

from Lynne Scott
2 July 2020

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