A second week in the North

Euan Murdoch is travelling Around the World in 60 Days and blogging about it, and in answer to his closing question in this post from all of the CMNZ team in New Zealand – “YES!” …

 “What’s happening in The Raploch is fantastic!”

I heard these words spoken with a very broad Scottish accent from all corners of Stirling while I was there visiting Sistema Scotland’s Big Noise. Everyone from the local taxi driver and the lovely woman who ran the B & B I stayed at, to teachers and young musicians who are part of it, and even the Chief Executive of the Council, sang its praises in unison. It is fair to say that I met people outside of Stirling who questioned the level of investment required to sustain this remarkable initiative but ultimately this is healthy too.

Big Noise Raploch began in 2008 and now has programmes that span from Nursery to a full children’s Symphony Orchestra and an adult ensemble for parents and grandparents called The Noise. It is beginning to make a real difference in a community going through regeneration and a second Big Noise centre will be established in an immigrant community in Glasgow later this year.

VIDEO: From the Guardian.co.uk, June 2012. 

I had the pleasure of sitting in with various ensembles as part of their Easter holiday programme and loved every minute of it. It took me back more than thirty years to my time working in the East End of London on the Tower Hamlets String Project. Music has the power to transform lives. In the words of Richard Holloway, their visionary Chair, Sistema Scotland knew that they could transform the children and in turn, children are transforming the community. There’s a growing self-belief and confidence that things can be different in the future and the institutionalised fear of failure, that has built up over the last few generations in this area, is being swept away.

Richard Holloway with his dog Daisy

Richard Holloway with his dog Daisy

I spent an inspiring afternoon with Richard and his impossibly cute dog Daisy at his home in Edinburgh. He is an extraordinary man. A former bishop and Chair of Creative Scotland, it was his vision, determination and entrepreneurship that translated what he had seen in Venezuala to Scotland as a way of beginning to break the cycle of deprivation. He believes that success will be measured in terms of future generations of self-confident and passionate Scottish children and their families.

As well as meeting all the key people involved with Sistema Scotland, I also met a number of artists last week thanks to British Council Scotland. Again I was taken by the positive vibe surrounding them and their work. They are ‘mixing it up’ but as creators rather than presenters. It struck me that this was more about stretching and developing the art forms rather than seeking to engage audience support as I had found in London. They also have a rich indigenious music scene and this adds an interesting twist to the new work they are creating.

Scottish Opera is collaborating with other national opera companies from New Zealand, Australia, India, Canada, Botswana and South Africa to develop a new work that will be premiered next year as part of Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games festivities. Well-known local author Alexander McCall Smith is writing the story and composer Pippa Murphy is responsible for the score. At dinner she was picking my brains for Kiwi place names that might work in her score…Eketahuna came to mind straight away although mentioning Whakatane drew odd looks from the tables around us in the small restaurant! This project will bring together emerging artists from these seven countries and it promises to be quite a spectacle.

Edinburgh-based Kiwi composer Lyell Cresswell is highly regarded in Scotland and I was sorry not to catch-up with him this visit. However, his reputation is helping to pave the way for our music in this country. There is a real interest in New Zealand. It has something to do with understanding the cultural challenges of having a much larger and more confident neighbour and having to assert our points of difference…eg Scotland/England; Canada/USA; NZ/Australia to name a few. They also understand that our national religion is sport and I felt at home with a foot in both camps. I spent a very enjoyable evening in a pub watching Manchester United play Manchester City, fortunately the underdog won through on the night and that kept most people happy.

So, I’ve now returned south and the temperatures are slowly warming up. Spring is in the air and I’m off to Paris for a few days…wish you were here?!

– Euan, 13.4.13



  1. Awesome blog Euan! Keep ’em coming!

    Dr Joe Harrop
    Programme Director
    APO Sistema Aotearoa

    1. Thanks for the lovely comment Joe.

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