By Laura Bennison, Community Engagement Officer
In Lerwick the lie of the land means that the sea is always in your vision, ever present. I wondered, on my walk to work each morning, how this constant presence and reminder of your isolation must impact upon all inhabitants of the island whether or not their livelihood is reliant on the sea.
I enjoyed the opportunity to work alongside colleagues at Shetland Museum in such a beautiful setting where they are faced with particular challenges because of their location – the new exhibition hadn’t arrived yet because the seas were too stormy. I was privileged to meet with a range of people involved in Shetland’s vibrant arts and cultural scene to discuss the outreach opportunities that our new Pacific island gallery presents, including possible link ups between Pacific island and Scottish island schools. There are obvious connections to perhaps explore between the two sets of communities, for example the threat of global warming to their land and their islands’ rich craft tradition reliant on local materials.
My first few days were spent scurrying around the island putting faces to the names of people I had been talking to on the phone for the previous few months and preparing for the fiddle’s first outing, a concert for the public at Shetland Museum and Archives. I managed a flurry of calls from the press and did some radio interviews as Ewen made last minute tweaks to the fiddle and together we set up the space for the concert amongst TV cameras, a film crew, model boats and visitors looking around the museum.
This day saw Ewen’s creation come to life and be played by five fantastic young fiddlers from Anderson High School, who took the audience’s breath away with their ease at performing and exceptional talent. All the young musicians, as well as Ewen himself, were recorded so visitors to the gallery can sample the wonderful sound the fiddle produces. They all agreed that Ewen’s fiddles have a distinct and instantly recognisable quality, they were also very comfortable to play ‘like slipping a hand into a glove’.
There was time for a brief stop off and a bag of chips before the fiddle’s next performance at the weekly Fiddle and Accordion Club at a nearby hotel. Here, I took the microphone to explain where Ewen’s fiddle was headed, addressing an audience of around one hundred regulars at the club listening as they stood in the queue for the bar and buffet. The broad age range of people who had come out of their houses to listen to and perform live music at the Shetland hotel was interesting, but as one person remarked on the inter-generationalism of the Islanders ‘if there’s only one disco, you’re all going to go to it’.
You can find out more about the Shetland fiddle on our website.