Finding your own voice in Arbroath

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An Arbroath-born singer has returned to his roots to help schoolchildren find theirs, and their voices in the process.

Steve Byrne was in town earlier this year as part of the ‘Connecting Scotland’s Sounds’ project run by the National Library of Scotland.

The project looked at Scotland’s audio heritage and over four sessions the pupils learned about a range of old recording formats from wax cylinders and 78rpm discs right through to more modern types. It culminated in a performance for fellow pupils and family.

Pupils at Inverbrothock and St Thomas’ schools were given the chance to learn songs about the town that were once sung by local people in the community and recorded for Scotland’s major folklore archive at the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh from the 1950s onwards.

Over 50 people from across Angus were recorded for the university’s sound archive.

The archive itself is one of the cornerstones of the National Library of Scotland’s “Scotland’s Sounds” network which includes a range of museums, libraries, archives and private collections, working collaboratively to care for and provide access to Scotland’s heritage of recorded sound.

The original reel-to-reel tapes are now digitised and available online through the Kist o Riches project website (www.kistoriches.co.uk), which houses over 38,000 tracks of folksong, tales and other folklore in both Scots and Gaelic.

In 2013, Steve co-founded the organisation ‘Local Voices’ which is now delivering the workshops on behalf of the National Library.

He said: “The children responded really well to the workshops, fascinated by the range of recording devices and sound formats down the years that we looked at, but particularly by the fact that they discovered Arbroath has very local traditional songs connected with people and places in the town.

“Remembering and passing our own local culture and language, and giving value to each others’ stories and experiences, wherever we come from, helps us understand the place we live, and realise that our own local culture is just as worthy of being celebrated as anything else. Place-based education is vital in helping children become confident citizens, and, to my mind, appreciating their own local culture is the first step to respecting the cultures of folk from elsewhere in the world.”

Funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Trust, around 65 pupils in P5 and P6/7 took part in the project.