2013 Young Musician International Travel Bursary Winner
Travel Destination: Catalonia
It is immediately apparent that the Catalan people are very proud of their culture. Everybody here in Barcelona seems to be speaking in Catalan - which is particularly interesting for me as a Gaelic speaker, since you have to search long and hard to find people speaking Gaelic outside of the classroom, never mind when ordering food in a café or restaurant. Last night, I was fortunate enough to be invited along to the training session of very important cultural group: a team of castellers. A castell is a human tower built traditionally in Catalan speaking regions at festivals. I went along expecting a small number of people to be in attendance. How wrong I was! The group was huge, with people of all ages - literally - there. The atmosphere was very lively and energetic – they were taking it seriously, with decisions being made and debates springing up around the hall, children who looked as young as 5 years old running around and climbing up frames and, of course, people climbing all over each other! I was well looked after by everyone and had everything explained to me enthusiastically and clearly. I was even encouraged to take part as part of the base for the structure – despite doing everything wrong as I heard afterwards! There was a great sense of community – there had to be, because if you are in the base (as most people are) you will end up either pressed right up against your teammates from all directions, or being held in the air by them! Everyone is important in making the structure as stable as possible.
Apparently the Catalan people see this as a very important teambuilding activity and I can see why. The emphasis is on improving as a team rather than on winning any sort of race, and members of opposing teams will even help each other out if one team is short of members for a particular structure. It was a fantastic opportunity for me to speak to people passionate about their culture, though they don’t seem to be too hard to find here.
I think there is at least one Irish bar in every city in the world, and Barcelona is no exception! I was advised that one even has an Irish music session, so I thought I would go along last night to have a look – and I’m very glad I did! The bar was packed with Catalan folk musicians playing not only Irish tunes and songs as expected, but Catalan and other folk tunes which I was glad to discover! I have recorded lots of new tunes and look forward to learning them. I still don’t know much about the various forms and what their original function was – though it sounds to me like a lot of the tunes were written to be played for dancing as a lot of Scottish tunes were originally. Instrumentally, I was told that the session wasn’t typical of Catalan folk music – which in an Irish session wasn’t surprising! However, as in Scotland, Ireland and indeed most countries, folk musicians don’t often stick to their own repertoire rigidly, and I spoke to some musicians who play Catalan tunes in a band with what is thought of an Irish line-up which I found interesting. I was also interested to see that the group had a very wide range of ages, but that it was actually quite a young group. It was great to meet so many like-minded – and very skilled – people from another culture and was a very rewarding experience.
Hola! So, I’ve finally managed to get myself organised and write about some of the things I’ve done since arriving here in Barcelona on Saturday. What a place! The weather is gorgeous, sunny but not too hot, and the city itself is absolutely breath taking. I have been doing a bit of sight-seeing and just trying to get a feel for the place, starting with the Parc de Montjuïc, which has lots to see, including the Estadi Olímpic, the Olympic ring, the National Art Museum of Catalonia, to give a few examples. I have also seen the incomplete but impressive Sagrada Familia, the completed and equally impressive Barcelona Cathedral, the lively streets of Las Ramblas and the exotic and exciting food market, La Boqueria. It is impossible not to be impressed by the architecture and individuality of the buildings, gardens and streets, and there seems to be something interesting everywhere you look.
Anyway – on to what I’m here to do! Sort of… I decided that no exploration of Barcelona’s culture would be complete without a visit to Camp Nou to see the famous FC Barcelona in action! I picked a good night to go, seeing them thump Almeria 4-1 last night. The people do seem to be very proud of their team. Apparently they see the game against Real Madrid, known as El Clásico, as more of a battle between Catalonia and Spain than a mere football game and can apparently get quite feisty! The area thrived on the team’s convincing victory – the staff at my accommodation were talking very passionately about the performance of the players having all been at the game themselves, or at least watching it on TV. Being a football fan myself, I was delighted to see one of the best teams in the world in their element, and enjoyed the night very much. A great start to my trip!
I’m a native Gaelic speaker, and have always had an interest in Gaelic culture – in particular, its music. Through organisations like Fèis Rois, I have had the opportunity to learn and perform Gaelic music, and Gaelic music now forms a large part of my repertoire as a full time musician. With Gaelic music, I have also been fortunate enough to have travelled and have had a glimpse of the cultures of other minority languages at concerts and festivals throughout Europe. I decided to apply for this bursary to learn about another minority language, and settled on Catalan, after hearing my friend play some Catalonian tunes on the fiddle.
I intend to spend the whole of March in Catalonia, an independence-hungry Spanish province, to try and learn the language and about the traditional music and dance associated with it. From this, I would hope to be able to draw some comparisons between Gaelic and Catalonian music and also to be able to take some music back with me to include in my repertoire. I have no doubt that this trip will also influence my own music, and will be something I can carry with me forever.