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An Enjoyable Evening of Bagpipes and Fiddlers

At some point in their academic career, every St Andrews student should try and immerse themselves in Scottish traditions and culture, and, as far as opportunities for this go, the St Andrews Folk & Trad Music Society is a shining star. The group's aim, as explained by President Dugald Macfarlane, is to spread awareness of traditional Scottish and Irish music, hosting weekly tune-teaching sessions and regular performances in pubs around town. 

This past weekend, the group hosted the St Andrews Folk Festival. Spanning from Friday, 1 March to Sunday, 3 March, the festival included a variety of traditional performances from singing to dancing to instrumental music. The festival began with The Selkie’s Wife, a queer folk gig show by Elisabeth Flett, in Sandy’s Bar, followed by an Open Mic Night and Late Session. On Saturday, the group hosted a workshop with musician Alistair McCulloch, performance sessions around town, an evening concert, and a late-night ceilidh. Finishing off the weekend was a farewell session in Molly Malones on Sunday afternoon. 

I was lucky enough to attend the Student Showcases & Eabhal Performance at Laidlaw Music Centre on Saturday evening. With tickets ranging from £15-20, the performance spanned two-and-a-half hours with two ten-minute intermissions. 

The audience was a mix of students and locals, most dressed appropriately for the following ceilidh in blends of tartan. Starting the evening was the St Andrews Folk & Trad Society performance group, who played a few lively sets of reels and gigs. Following this instrumental performance, the St Andrews Dance Club’s highland dance group took the stage to perform several dances. This set the tone for the ceilidh later in the evening, and upon a glance around the room, nearly everyone in attendance was tapping a foot or nodding a head along to the music. 

Following the dance performance, a quartet from the University of Edinburgh took the stage, pausing their music briefly for a solo sung by the cellist, an enchanting tune that could be reasonably compared to a siren's song. The blend of instruments was truly the most remarkable part of the evening. Throughout the evening and the three different groups who performed, there were several fiddles, accordions, bagpipes, a few different types of flutes, acoustic guitars, and a cello. Yet, when the music began, the individual instruments were indistinguishable. If not for the rapid speed at which each player’s fingers were moving, I wouldn’t have known which instruments were and weren’t being played at any given moment. 

Finally, Eabhal (AY-VAL), the evening’s headliners, took the stage. In their nearly hour-long set, they played a mix of traditional songs from the Highlands and across Scotland, as well as original music from their two albums. For about 50 per cent of the set, they were accompanied vocally, with the leading singer singing lilting, echoing songs in both Gaelic and English, that made me viscerally feel as if I was roaming through the Highlands in a period film, despite never having physically been.

Watching the performance was more than just listening to music. Each musician is completely immersed in the music, making it a full-body, immersive experience on stage that translates to the audience’s energy levels and engagement with the music. The entire experience of listening to and experiencing traditional music was a gateway drug to Scottish culture and something every student should allow themselves to experience. I couldn’t help being struck by the passion that the Folk & Trad soc brought to the event and the incredible preservation and respect of the traditions of Scotland and Ireland. As a hugely international community, it is gratifying to see the strength of culture and tradition within the student community and the town of St Andrews.

Photo: Ilaria Freccia

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