The aim of the Hands Up for Trad Community Music awards is to showcase and celebrate the outstanding practice and great things going on in Scotland’s community music sector to the wider public and media.
Congratulations to Science Ceilidh who have been nominated in the Community Music Organisation of the Year category. We asked them the following questions.
Tell us more about yourself.
The Science Ceilidh explores the science around our health, wellbeing and world around us with traditional music and dance. A collaboration between scientists, educators, traditional musicians and dancers, our aim is bring the highly participatory spirit of our folk traditions, where everyone has a voice and is able to take part, regardless of expertise, to communities all across Scotland.
This is sometimes through quite a unique spin on traditions, including sometimes literally adapting ceilidh dances with researchers so that each move helps explain science concepts – from the Dashing White Blood Cell to explore the immune system, to the Orcadian Strip-the-Helix to explain DNA replication! The band itself has shared these dances for festivals and events all across the UK and Europe, playing a high-energy mix of traditional Scottish tunes with influences from across Scandinavia, Quebec and North America.
Our year-round Education programme works with primary and high schools from Shetland all the way to the Borders exploring the benefits of music, creativity and learning in the brain and the importance of learning new skills throughout life. The workshops are intercurricular, exploring the physics of instruments, how the senses work, along with the cultural contexts of folk music, arrangement, and importantly, finish with the students developing their own creative performance (often ceilidh dances) to share what they have learnt with peers and parents. We also work directly with teachers through training and free resources that further link creativity, traditional arts and science together with current research happening in Scotland, supporting more active learning with the Curriculum for Excellence.
Our community projects focus on working with groups who often don’t have the opportunity to engage with traditional arts and science. These ranges from our long-term New Scots programme working with the Edinburgh refugee community and MUSE additional support need programmes working with groups in Midlothian. Much of our work focuses on working with communities in rural parts of Scotland, from youth projects on Galloway, our musical memory project on Shapinsay on Orkney looking at heritage on the island, and finally, most recently focusing a project on wellbeing and creativity, and the links with dementia, in the North Isles of Shetland.
How long have you or your group organisation been involved in this work and tell us a wee bit about how it all started?
As the founder, my own background has been in neuroscience, traditional fiddle and dance alongside science education, having worked at science festivals both across Scotland and the world. Travelling a lot, I would always bring along my own fiddle to play some tunes and get some social dances going. A few years ago, I realised the strong overlap between the folk traditions – the importance of bringing people together, everyone participating, not about being the best necessarily, but having a voice and piece to share – and what we were striving to do at these educational festivals with science – encourage everyone to feel that they can engage with science, even if they weren’t experts. That, and along with the idea of the “Orcadian Strip the Helix”, came to me and I started working out how you could actually explore science with traditional dances, and with our ceilidh band, we hosted the first “Science Ceilidh” as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival in 2014 which sold out to very positive feedback.
Since then, we’ve grown the concept further, broadening our education and community projects to take a holistic approach to exploring arts and sciences and not only focusing on dance, but like the more traditional meaning of a ceilidh, using all forms of traditional arts to bring people together and explore their health, wellbeing and the science around them.
What have you or your group/organisation got planned for the next 12 months?
Over the next 12 months, we plan to be visiting the Outer Hebrides and Skye focusing on sharing the research showing the benefits of bilingualism in healthy ageing in the brain with communities and schools out there (and we’ve been learning gaelic to put this into practice!). We’re keen to further explore what Scottish traditions and heritage means in a modern, outward-looking nation strong in innovation and science, and continue to develop new collaborations, approaches and conversations about this – from exploring space and storytelling to how technology can augment traditional arts to make them more inclusive than ever.
We’ll be continuing to build on our long-term projects with additional support needs and the refugee community, leading to a New Scots Science Ceilidh as part the EU-wide Explorathon. We’ve also been invited to speak at a conference in Malta building on the important aspect of sharing our approach to education and culture internationally.
Finally, we will also be finishing off our free resources based on linking cutting-edge biomedical sciences with dance and the curriculum for learners and educators. These range from the Canadian Brain Dance, exploring how neurons send messages and link with the research around Multiple Sclerosis, the Mitosis Waltz and the Stem Cell Festival Dance linked with how cells replicate, and how the understanding of this can help research into brain tumours at the Centre for Regenerative Medicine, University of Edinburgh.
What has been the highlight of your or your group/organisation’s experience to date?
There have been many highlights. One of our favourite projects was the Cancer Research UK Ceilidh Experience, collaborating with researchers from the Edinburgh Cancer Centre to highlight the important life-saving research happening locally. From using a few science-themed dances, spoken word, games and art, the aim of the event was to spark conversations celebrating the progress made so far, encouraging more openness about discussing cancer itself, and finding out more of the local research going on to improve prognosis in the future whilst raising funds for the charity too.
Being able to share our work and approach with a fellowship at the “Exploring the Mind Through Music” conference in Rice University was a real privilege, to be able to engage and make links with other researchers and musicians from across the world about the work we were doing here in Scotland.
Finally, most recently, our Shetland “Creativity and Wellbeing Spree” in May was a true pleasure, working with schools in Lerwick, Yell and Unst, and collaborating with so many local groups from the Shetland Fiddlers, Shetland Traditional Dancers and the Wellbeing Choir to celebrate the importance of creativity for wellbeing, something that Shetlanders know intuitively perhaps, but it was a true joy to be able to discuss the increasing research behind it, including how learning to play an instrument can change the brain, alongside a tune or two!
How does it feel to be nominated for this award?
It’s wonderful to be nominated for this award as it helps recognise the time, energy and passion put into the Science Ceilidh project from not only our team, but from the pupils, teachers and other educators, researchers and musical community groups all across Scotland we have the absolutely privilege to work with year round – so thank you!
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