Scottish Culture and Traditions has been providing classes in singing, playing and dancing to traditional music in Aberdeen since 1997 and in that time an estimated 2500 to 3000 people have benefited from and enjoyed the organisation’s social approach to fostering interest in Scottish music.
Before SCaT began there were occasional events for children, including the Aberdeen Feis, but the ScaT founders felt that those in the 18 years and over group were missing out. So they started providing weekly classes, all year round, for adults who wished to learn new skills or to improve existing ones.
Initially, classes ran for twenty-six weeks; today SCaT hosts twenty-five classes over three nights every week, twenty-eight weeks a year at its current home, the MacRobert Building at Aberdeen University.
“We’re not strict about the 18-and-over age policy,” says Richard Ward, the organisation’s former chair and current vice chair. “We’re very happy for younger people to come along, provided they have parental consent and if they’re still at school, provided they have their head teacher’s permission to make sure going to evening classes won’t interfere with their studies.”
Indeed, while very much an adult learning facility, attracting younger people to traditional music is part of SCaT’s plan. Each year the organisation runs a week-long summer school in tandem with the highly successful Aberdeen International Youth Festival and the opening night of their twentieth anniversary Sliver City Stramash featured sets from Glasgow rapper Loki and Edinburgh-based DJ Dolphin Boy.
At the other end of the age spectrum it’s not unusual for people who played, say, violin at school and have now retired from full-time employment to come along and learn fiddle tunes.
ScaT is encouraging this all the more now that, following on from the publication of its book A Puckle o’ Sangs in 2016, it has published The Aberdeen Collection: 250 Contemporary Tunes in Traditional Scottish Style. The book features a foreword, as well as a couple tunes, from fiddler Alasdair Fraser, who is a patron of SCaT, as is Phil Cunningham.
There are no entry qualifications to SCaT classes. All levels of ability are welcome and the organisation works with partner organisations in the Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire areas to ensure that people from disadvantaged backgrounds can take advantage of the places open to them and be provided with instruments where necessary.
The over-riding message, says Richard Ward, is to make everyone welcome and get people enjoying the music. Some participants go on to form working ceilidh bands and others become part of the organisation, helping to run events including the Spring Sing and SCaT’s occasional ceilidhs.
“I’m not sure I we have anyone who came along in the first year and is still coming to classes but we have people who have been coming for years,” says Richard Ward. “That’s testament, I think, to how easy it is to feel part of the SCaT family and people do keep coming back. Our busiest term is the autumn, when around two hundred and fifty people enrol, and of those, fifty to sixty per cent will be returnees. So we’re clearly giving people something they value.”