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Sabhal Mòr Ostaig perform at Catalan music festival in Mallorca

Former students from the BA Gaelic & Traditional Music joined Programme Leader Dr. Decker Forrest and current students and staff of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig for a concert in Mallorca at the end of October. The concert was part of the 33rd annual ‘Festival de Mùsica de Bunyola’ which features a wide range of music from all over Europe.

The connection came through Professor Boyd Robertson, Principal of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, who has had a long association with festival director Tomeu Quetgles Pons who is also a scholar and leading figure in the revitalisation of the Catalan language in Mallorca. Boyd and Tomeu have both made a huge contribution towards the development of teacher education in their respective minority languages (Gàidhlig and Catalan) for primary and secondary education and it is this commonality which brought them into contact. Tomeu has been studying the regeneration of minority languages throughout his career and has visited Sabhal Mòr Ostaig a number of times.

Dr Quetgles commented “As the programmer of the Festival de Música de Bunyola I like to offer music from different times and from different places. Being a minority doesn’t mean to be alone. The processes of ‘minorization’ around Europe have shared a lot of similiarities. We can learn a lot from each other and we can help one another to raise our voices together, in harmony. When we meet somebody speaking a different language we use a major language we more or less share in order to communicate; but music and dance do not require any intermediate.”

The concert was an opportunity to showcase traditional Gaelic music, song and dance in Mallorca and to represent Sabhal Mòr Ostaig as a cultural agency which promotes a minority language. Performing in the concert along with Dr. Decker Forrest (bagpipes/whistle/jew’s harp) were Ellen MacDonald (song) from Inverness, Murdo Ewan Cameron (guitar/mandola) from Glenelg, Anna Rachel MacDonald (song/clàrsach) from Tiree and Sophie Stephenson (step dance) from Fort Augustus.

Dr Decker Forrest said “The aim was to give a broad overview of some of the main instruments and rhythms of Gaelic traditional music and a sense of what the Gaelic language sounds like when sung. The audience was very enthusiastic and deeply appreciative. We performed perhaps three encores before we politely asked them if we could call it a night!”

Sophie Stephenson commented: “One of the first things I noticed when we arrived in Mallorca was how similar the flag was to the Catalonian flag. Rather ignorantly, as I’m sure many people are, I hadn’t realised that Mallorquí (a dialect of Catalan) is the first language of most people who are native to the island. Over the couple of days we were there it was really interesting to learn from our host Tomeu Quetgles Pons about what people are doing in the Balearic Islands to promote and revitalise the minority language. Tomeu lectures at the University in Palma and when he originally proposed that he would teach a course through Catalan he was told by the University that this was illegal (Franco was still alive). He went ahead and did it anyway. Nowadays they have Catalan medium schools across the island and there are also degrees taught through the medium of Catalan. Over the last 30 years Tomeu has been building connections with other minority language communities across Europe and it’s thanks to his international outlook the group from Sabhal Mòr Ostaig were brought over to perform a concert in Bunyola as part of a local festival. Hopefully this is the start of many more exchanges between Skye and Mallorca – we have lots to learn from each other for sure”

Dr Decker Forrest added: “Being consciously involved in the revitalisation of Gaelic language – as a student, teacher, researcher, parent, artist or in any number of other ways – it is often easy to forget that the regeneration of minority languages is happening all over the world. It is important that relationships between people and institutions are forged and maintained to support and learn from one another in our similar missions. Music is a key means of initiating contact with others and can lead to stronger ties, deeper levels of understanding and mutual support.”

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