Robert’s Mod

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Sometimes there is more to competition than just winning. The first few days of Mòd week are usually about children gaining advice and wisdom from adult adjudicators or tutors.

On Monday, however, the roles were reversed as I was taught something very important by a group of children and teenagers.

Ever since I was a boy, I’ve always felt a competitive desire to win. I felt this from junior level all the way to the Gold Medal in 2013 and I never fully grasped the idea of ‘it’s all about the taking part’. For the last four years, I have conducted Glasgow Islay Junior Gaelic Choir at the Mòd. I am a great believer in always building on progress, so a second place finish in Fort William last year rekindled my desire to win.

On Monday morning, after a year of good work, the final results showed us anchored at the bottom of both the Unison and Puirt a Beul competitions after all the promise of last year. But here’s the thing – after gathering them round and delivering a hastily planned team talk, I realised we now had a clearer understanding of what we should take out of these competitions.

The first thing I told them is to have no grievance over the result because Rionnagan Rois were deserved winners of the Unison and Islay of the Puirt. I pointed out we had only nine singers on the stage: two of whom are nine years old, three of whom are 18 years old, with the rest somewhere in between.

In 10 years of singing with the National Youth Choir, I was never once asked to sing with someone more than five years older than me, so for some of those youngsters to stand alongside choristers 10 years their senior is a remarkable achievement. We had come up against a host of wonderful choirs who were singing to an impeccably high standard that, given our circumstances, we had been unable to match.

I said all this purely to try and cheer them up. In truth, the competitive side of me was still hurting from the defeat. I had so wanted those children to return to Glasgow having at least been placed.

But I realised they were all taking it on board with a profound understanding that would probably have been beyond me when I was their age.

They left Dunoon as anyone who leaves with disappointing results this week should: with their heads held high and with an acceptance that they gave their all and made their parents, fellow choristers and conductor very proud. Those nine youngsters reminded me that this is all that one can ask.