Outstanding entries for musical composition competition produce tight finish in shinty shoot-out

Ewen Henderson, who plays the fiddle and pipes, composed a three-four pipe tune for the contest.

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Lochaber’s Ewen Henderson, one of Scotland’s finest musicians and composers, has won a unique competition held to mark the 200th anniversary of the Royal Celtic Society and the fact shinty has not been played this season.

Results of the final of the musical shoot-out were revealed at 2.15pm on Saturday afternoon – September 19 – at the precise moment shinty’s Big Day Out, the Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup Final, would have been throwing up in Kingussie had it not been for the Coronavirus pandemic.

Three of Scotland’s oldest and most significant sporting and cultural bodies – the Royal Celtic Society, Glasgow Celtic Society and Camanachd Association – came together to offer a major set of prizes for an original musical competition marking the absence of shinty from this summer’s sporting calendar and looking forward to the return of play.

Led by the Royal Celtic Society (RCS), which is this year celebrating its 200th anniversary, and in partnership with the Glasgow Celtic Society and shinty’s governing body the Camanachd Association, supported by Tulloch Homes, the competition offered three prizes totalling £1,500 for an individual to compose an original competition.

Three finalists were chosen by a panel of judges after considerable and challenging assessment from an original entry list of more than 20. After prolonged discussion, chairman of the judges Gary Innes revealed the result with Ewen Henderson in first place, Mary Ann Kennedy second and Chris Gray third.

Speaking of behalf of the judges Gary Innes said: ‘It was a hugely challenging set of circumstances and a really interesting competition which attracted a significant number of fantastic entries.

‘We are delighted with the response we got from a wide range of musicians who made the most of the opportunities we offered them to be creative and imaginative about the situation we find ourselves in. It was very difficult for the judges to narrow it down, but we reduced the original 20-odd to five, then three and finally came to our decision.

‘Ewen’s melody was key to his success but we cannot speak highly enough of the effort everyone put into the competition.’

Ewen Henderson said: ‘I’ve composed a pipe-style ¾ march in three parts. The first reflects shinty’s proud history; the darker and repetitive second part symbolises lockdown and shinty’s hiatus; the optimistic third part looks to the future and shinty’s revival.

‘Unique to Scotland, ¾ marches are a much underrated and neglected part of our musical heritage in the same way shinty is sometimes overlooked in the wider sphere of Scottish sport. Also, many of the best of these marches were composed by army pipers in the war years – an appropriate nod to the only other times shinty seasons have been cancelled.’

Prizes for the competition were supported by The Royal Celtic Society, Glasgow Celtic Society and the Camanachd Association supported by Tulloch Homes. The winner received £750, second place £500 and third place £250.

The RCS had originally intended the winner of the competition could have performed at this year’s Camanachd Cup Final at the post-match Final Fling. That game has now been re-scheduled for Kingussie in September 2021.

Royal Celtic Society Chairman Alan Hay said: ‘We are grateful to the Princess Royal for introducing the final competition for us in our significant 200th year when she has agreed to become our Patron. I am grateful to the Glasgow Celtic Society and Camanachd Association with the support of Tulloch Homes.

‘This was a huge undertaking for us and a unique set of circumstances against the background of a global pandemic, at a significant moment in our own and shinty’s history.

‘I am grateful to the judges, who were unanimous that they found the entries a highly demanding challenge in terms of the separation for final choices, and I know from personal experience how difficult it was to select a winner from such an accomplished set of entries.

‘We were particularly encouraged by the number of young people who took part and also the fact the clarsach appeared at least twice.’

The selection panel was led by award-winning musician Gary Innes of Mànran, the BBC Scotland Take the Floor presenter and former shinty captain of Scotland. Gary was joined on the panel by RCS chairman Alan Hay, Angus MacInnes of the Glasgow Celtic Society and Claire Delaney of Lochaber Camanachd, representing the Camanachd Association.

The three prizewinners and the competition video can be accessed  on YouYube   https://youtu.be/Qh3m1EaMyF4