An Orcadian Adventure

By Nigel Gaston, Music Instructor at Gordonstoun

On Thursday 23rd March twenty-four students and four members of staff, splendidly dressed in their blue tour hoodies, departed for a long-awaited music tour to Orkney. A Gordonstoun convoy comprising two minibuses and a musical instrument van departed St Christopher’s and made its way to St Gills bay for an early afternoon crossing over The Pentland Firth to St Margaret’s Hope on Orkney. The sun was shining as we drove north making some scheduled stops at John O’Groats and Scrabster on the way, with a tangible sense of excitement and anticipation in everyone.

Our musicians, from Year 9 to Year 13, had prepared and rehearsed throughout the term to perform a diverse range of music across a wide variety of ensembles. About to perform on Orkney were Gordonstoun pipers, a jazz orchestra, a string ensemble, a wind quintet, a trombone quartet, a brass ensemble, solo vocalists, a chamber folk group and a full twenty-four-piece Scottish folk ensemble. The stage was set…….

Our accommodation in Orkney was the Kirkwall youth hostel, overlooking beautiful Scapa Bay. We had exclusive use of this facility as our Orcadian base and used it, not only as our accommodation, but as a rehearsal and performance centre too. Whilst there for six days, we were able to eat together, cook together, laugh together, and also to rehearse, improvise, jam and make endless music; the hostel resounded and echoed with the sounds of our music-making on a daily basis.

During our stay we also had the privilege of hosting and enjoying a private concert given by the exhilarating and accomplished local folk duo Salt Fish Forty.

Living, learning and playing together meant our students - in a distinctively Gordonstoun fashion – were impelled to new experiences . ‘Plus est en vous’ – There is more in you – in action!

And that was before we had performed! This aspect of the tour centred around three key performances. The first of these was a shared and collaborative concert with the string and fiddle players of Kirkwall Grammar School, under the direction of Gordonstoun’s Head of Music, Miss Csenki and Kirkwall Grammar’s Douglas Montgomery. The performance took place in the school’s beautiful theatre. On the following day we performed in the magnificent St Magnus Cathedral. It was a huge privilege to play there – another unforgettable experience for our players - and they relished the Cathedral’s glorious 12th century acoustics. We even had some Gordonstoun supporters in attendance. Thank you to James MacGregor, Mrs MacGregor, Mrs MacGregor’s mum and Josue who added to the applause of the visiting audience.

Our final performance involved a magical 30-minute ferry journey to the Isle of Hoy, made all the more special by the evocative and atmospheric piping of Hamish.

Waiting for us there was The North Walls Community School and its entire cohort of nineteen students. We spent a delightful day in the school community, sharing our music, performing and rehearsing with the students. Our time there culminated with a joint concert in the aptly named Gable End Theatre. The theatre was packed for our collaborative one-hour concert and it felt like the entire island had turned out to support. This concert allowed us to fund raise almost £500 for the local RNLI. Congratulations to Pierce Menzies who was one of the lucky winners of the prize raffle!!

During our stay in Orkney we also had the opportunity to explore and gain some understanding and a sense of awe at the remarkable historical and archaeological significance of the island - from 3100 BC to recent times. Complementing our various performances and workshops were visits to the Skara Brae Neolithic village, The Ring Of Brodgar, Churchill Barriers, Scapa Flow Museum on the Isle of Hoy and the beautiful Italian Chapel in the Island of Lamb Holm. I am confident that many of us will be inspired to return and explore these wonders further.

It was with real sadness that we finally packed away our bags and instruments to make the journey home on the following Tuesday, our sixth and final day. It was a wonderful experience - travel, exploration, musical performance, service, team building, fun, laughter, games, great food, cooking and quality time together. A learning experience from start to finish, and testament to the ethos of Gordonstoun, and the provision of an education that operates beyond the bounds, truly in classrooms without corridors. Many thanks to the amazing Music Department for all their work teaching our students, supporting them and preparing them and to those who were able to take part in this amazing adventure.

It is best to finish, not with our words, but rather with the e-mailed words of a North Wall parent and member of the audience at our final concert on Hoy………

“I just wanted to ask you to pass on a huge thank you to all involved from Gordonstoun, I was lucky enough to be in the audience on Monday (embarrassingly the winner of the first two raffle prizes) and my youngest two boys attend North Walls (Nathan who got to try the bagpipes in school with Lexi and Edgar, the tallest and grumpiest looking of our school fiddle players!). It was an absolutely amazing experience for me as an adult, the playing by your pupils, and their commitment to it was astounding but also they joy both they and you as staff exhibited during your performances was wonderful to watch. I am truly grateful that my children were able to experience that too and wondered if you would pass on a huge thank you to the group. My Edgar has resolutely decided he now wants to learn the bagpipes (not quite sure how I will facilitate this but I will!) after being inspired by watching and listening to your pipers, something he would not have had the chance to hear without your visit, I would have had to take them on a long trip to enable them to experience music at that level which was certainly once in a lifetime so far for me, so thank you all. I hope you have had a lovely time in Orkney and had a safe journey home” .