Hands Up for Trad’s Women in Music and Culture 2023 list has been announced to celebrate just some of the women working in Scotland.
Launched as part of International Women’s Day 2023, we shine the spotlight on 15 women who all contribute towards Scotland’s cultural landscape through their work. Read the list here.
We asked Sheila Sapkota to tell us more about there work, influences and ambitions for the future.
How did you first get involved in the arts and who were your early influences?
As a young child I was selected to learn viola at school and that led me into a pathway of playing at school events and regional ensembles. I had a wonderful viola teacher called Mr. Samuel who managed to engineer it that, at primary school, we had a lesson a day within school time .That 40 minutes of music daily was such a wonderful way to start a day.I often think of him and wish he could have known what a gift he gave me and others – regular, live music and performances at such a young age. People around me made playing possible – the neighbour who dug an old ( and very good) viola out of the attic for me to freely use deserves a special mention.With an Irish mother and a sibling who played clarinet and piano my brother and I did regular party pieces for our grandmother’s assembled friends in her Dublin. living room. These ad hoc audiences who so loved every note and did not care about polished perfection were a great start to a lifetime of community music and teaching. Once I was older musicians such as Aly Bain and courses at Stirling University with Shetland’s Tom Anderson made playing the fiddle a more attractive option and a busking competition in Peebles High Street allowed me to see and play with traditional musicians in my area and join local ceilidh bands. Somehow, although I appreciate my classical beginnings, music became more fun and,in my case, more achievable in the traditional domain. I formed community group Riddell Fiddles in 2003 and it is still, 20 years later, allowing folk of all ages to participate and enjoy learning, playing and performing traditional music
At a time which has been very challenging for many people working in the arts, how did you use the last 3 years to develop your creativity?
Creativity is something I am not short of but what is so wonderful in Scotland and, especially here in the Scottish Borders, is the willingness of folk to have a go, take part and to make things work. Covid presented ,of course, challenges which we worked around.Scottish Borders Council supported us with grants to make online issues ( poor wifi) easier and allowed my group Riddell Fiddles to continue. However, thanks to the local community, we went further than that. Gazebos were lent to us allowing distanced ,outdoor performances. On the wettest day in the history of recording rainfall (3.10.21) we were out there playing music under a gazebo in Selkirk Market Place. The delighted children sloshing around rhythmically to our tunes whilst mothers cowered under umbrellas made it worthwhile. Electrified trishaws allowed us to fly up and down the high street where gloomy queues stoically waited their turn.The smiles as we careered past ( fiddle in one trishaw and guitar in the one behind) gave some light relief in the pandemic. Playing outside care home windows was challenging ( especially if on a hill) but we managed it.Tuning children’s fiddles in their gardens became routine and,best of all, we did keep most of our players going.The Zoom Early Bird Class still runs.
Who or what interests you creatively?
Living in such a beautiful and historic area the local environment and it’s history really interest me. Projects done recently include a musical take on our local community woodland and a musical reenactment of a local battle (1645) including sound, rhythm ( a marching beat) and composition ( a lament).
I am interested in birds and birdsong and feel that a lot of the interest in reconnecting with the outdoors is leading positively to an understanding of nature and the natural world around us. People are relearning how to listen.
I feel musicians have a huge part to play in bringing alive a locality in terms of the natural sounds or recreating the historic ballads as well as composing new tunes and stories to reflect where we live and what is around us.
What are your plans for the next year or so and/or what are your longer term creative ambitions?
This is the 20th year of Riddell Fiddles ( no coincidence that Hands up for Trad which has so supported us over the years is the same age) and a series of concerts and busking events locally are ongoing. As a member of Hjaltibonhoga ( Shetland Fiddlers) I am privileged to be offered opportunities to play new music with them at events such as the Tall Ships Opening in July 2023. The University of the Highlands and Islands has been a great thing for me in terms of studying music and, although my studies are completed, I continue to keep contact with their residentials and hope to go to Stornaway in April. I like seeing where music is going and who is doing what amazing thing.
My main priority ( rather a huge one) in the next few years is trying to support children learning music as well as promoting local venues and keeping music alive in the community.That busk outside the supermarket, that concert in the village hall, that extracurricular lunchtime music club are all so important. Finding a sustainable future pathway for Riddell Fiddles and groups all over Scotland like it – in tricky times economically- is one of my priorities.
Find out more about Sheila Sapkota here.
Hands Up for Trad are an organisation who work with Scottish traditional music, language and culture. If you would like to support our work you can donate here.
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