Lochaber Music Festival starts but fails to finish due to COVID-19 pandemic

Andrew Orr, winner of the Premier Scots Traditional Award. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO F12 Music Festival Scots Trad award winner 02
Andrew Orr, winner of the Premier Scots Traditional Award. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO F12 Music Festival Scots Trad award winner 02

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The 46th Lochaber Music Festival, due to take place from March 13-19, started, but wasn’t able to finish, due to the coronavirus epidemic.

Chairperson Catherine Cameron and her team (complete with new secretary Louise Pescod, after a 10-year vacancy) had fully organised the event, hoping that it would be able to go ahead unhindered, however it was not to be.

The two days of piping and traditional music competitions went ahead successfully, with last year’s adjudicators returning. Gillian Frame and Donald John MacIntyre were delighted to be back at the festival, despite the occasional missing competitor and uncertainty due to the virus. The Premier Scots Traditional Award was won by talented local piper, Andrew Orr.

With government coronavirus recommendations remaining the same as for the previous week, the decision was taken to go ahead with the Monday competitions, though understandably several competitors stayed away.

The verse-speaking, adjudicated by one of our new adjudicators, Judey Struth, was able to be completed at the Alexandra Hotel, with attentive staff regularly wiping down handles and surfaces.

Many humorous poems were enjoyed by the small audience, with the last, hilarious, offering of the afternoon, recited by Lucy Bloom, about a boy who ate himself, piece by piece!

Vocal and string classes for junior competitors took place at Bun-Sgoil Ghaidhlig Loch Abar. Organisers were delighted to welcome another new adjudicator, Iona Zuiderwijk there.

Several girls were invited to participate in the Premier Junior Vocal Award that evening – Faye MacKinnon, Fiona Austin, Lily Jane Robertson, Rosie Servant – and there should have been string solos, instrumental groups and adult vocal competitions taking place at Kilmallie Community Centre.

However, at 3.30pm, Highland Council issued a letter to all headteachers, asking them to prohibit all movement of pupils out of schools and all visitors into schools, which was followed almost immediately by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recommendation that unnecessary gatherings of people should cease, for reasons of public health and safety.

Thus, the Lochaber Music Festival came to an abrupt end. Ms Cameron told us: ‘It was no surprise that we were unable to continue, as the
coronavirus situation was changing at a terrific rate and, of course, the health and safety of our competitors, sponsors, adjudicators and festival personnel was of paramount importance.

‘On a more positive note, I’ve invited all those competitors who didn’t have the opportunity to perform their well-rehearsed pieces of music, the opportunity to send a video of their tune(s) to me, with their parent/guardian’s permission, and I’m uploading them to our Facebook page daily, for the next month.

‘Our British and International Federation of Festivals (BIFF) representative, Eileen Waterstone, has been in touch with me to ask whether Perth Music Festival (which also had to be cancelled half-way through) can copy my idea, and to ask how we’ve gone about the project!

‘It seems as if this will brighten the days of our lockdown somewhat, while the competitors receive the attention and acknowledgement which they deserve.’

Ms Cameron also mentioned that she has plans to discuss, with her committee and the Rotary Club of Lochaber, the possibility of rescheduling the Young Musicians of the Year competitions at a later date this year.

There were eight entries, each of whom had prepared a full programme of music, so festival supporters may potentially look forward to those still.

‘Finally,’ stated Miss Cameron, ‘I would like to say a huge thank you to all of our sponsors, who provide us with much-needed finance in order to run the festival annually – Lochaber Burns Club and Mr and Mrs I Robertson, Rotary Club of Lochaber, Mackintosh Foundation, Locheilnet and Glenfinnan House Hotel- we are very grateful to you for your continued
support.’