The power of music to heal, nurture, and connect, is a notion that no-one reading this will need to be convinced of, and its potential for transforming lives lies at the heart of my work as a music practitioner and fiddle teacher. In our present pandemic world, the place that music and music-making can have in our everyday lives feels more crucial and holds greater poignancy than ever. In the scheme of things, keeping a small community fiddle project on the East side of Edinburgh afloat might not seem like a high priority, but for me a renewed sense of meaning and possibility is emerging.

Fun Fiddle, which came into being as an informal group of adult learners in 2003, and grew to take in children’s classes and a wide variety of adult groups, has survived and developed over all these years, been buffeted by the storms, grown and shrunk, and now, along with the rest of the arts and leisure world, has lost its weekly classes and venue. On the face of things, it’s pretty bleak from many angles, but at the same time this imposed honing down of our beloved fiddle project has helped me see the core strength of what has been built over the years, and has brought me right back to what really matters. And that is a sense of connection, resilience, strong friendships built over years, the shared pain and joys of learning this let’s face it, ‘challenging’ instrument, and the huge respect for the courage of those adult learners who took the plunge to participate in this project, in spite of the difficulty.

In these recent months, it’s been affirming to see Fun Fiddle players forging new paths, cementing their own ‘ceilidh group’, with live fiddle sessions (physically distanced!) on Portobello’s Promenade. They have swapped and shared new tunes, and latterly set up a new self organised zoom session. They have supported each other emotionally and practically, and it’s made me remember all over again, what music making is for and how it really can be a life saver.

While music in the community has gained considerable status over recent years, (you can now do a degree in it!), and amateur music-making continues to contribute massively to the health of the UK arts world, they both still struggle to get the full recognition they deserve in the hierarchy of the music industry. It feels crucial to share narratives that reveal what we know to be true about grassroots music-making and its interconnectedness with the professional world.

So here is my offering – a Fun Fiddle pandemic story:

Back in August some of the fiddle group, at very short notice, decided to serenade the children and parents as they walked to Towerbank school on their first day back since March. Playing live acoustic music outdoors for local families had a powerful effect and we could sense immediately how it lightened moods, soothed anxieties, and heightened emotions.

Feedback from parents and passersby was overwhelming:

– What a wonderful way to welcome the children back to school. I’m greetin’!
– I have no kids and had to walk on with a little tear. What a wonderful start hopefully all goes well.
– Greetin’ with joy.
– It was such a treat! Thank you for making it so special and memorable.
– It was beautiful! What a lovely thing for the kids to go back to 😍
– What a lovely thing to do ❤️ tearing up myself 😥
– Oh how Porty has changed for the better.
– It was amazing. My nursery and p2 child were skipping and singing ‘Mhairi’s wedding’ all the way to school after hearing it! Thank you to all. 🌈💞🤩👏
– How wonderful! Such a special memory created ❤️❤️
– Aww how lovely! When everyone is slating each other and moaning about everything, never forget how wonderful our community is and how lucky we are to live here. Thanks Ladies.
– Such a wonderful welcome. Thank you, I felt quite emotional ❤️

Alasdair Friend, HT at Towerbank came to welcome us in the playground and said afterwards:
“The prospect of returning to the school building for the first time since lockdown in March was daunting for many children, families and staff. We can’t have enough music in our lives and to have live music played to accompany the momentous return to Towerbank building was a huge success. The music encouraged and uplifted everyone. Out of over 600 returning and new children only one was reluctant to go into school!”

The healing power of music-making was in evidence that day – both for the children and parents simply to hear live music on their way to school, and also the impact on those playing – the sense of being part of something, and building a good project together.

Here’s some reflections from the fiddlers:

“Fun fiddle has been a very significant support and inspiration for me to remain positive during the past months. The fact we have all remained in touch gave me a focus for practising when we were staying at home. Towerbank gave us renewed focus and encouragement.”

“It is a sense of a ‘spiritual home’ in times when it is difficult to keep in close contact with family living far away.It has boosted my confidence to reach out to other fiddling opportunities on line as well as bringing a sense of ‘family’ enjoying good happy friendships, keeping us practising meaningfully, trying out new tunes, providing that bit of spontaneity when so much of your day has to be planned. We’ve found, with Fun Fiddle, ways to manage the difficulties that this crisis has thrown up.”</em

“Playing the fiddle has been keeping me sane and focussed on something positive, enriching and shared in this turbulent world of separation and lockdown.”

“It’s been an opportunity to share a musical experience with others when there is so little closeness with other people. It is an escape into a world of cheerful tunes which are uplifting and help us to live in the moment which is so important now. Expressing feelings through playing music is relaxing and so necessary at this time.”

Positive health and wellbeing is now at the top of the agenda in Scottish education and a major issue across society, whether at home or in the workplace. It would be great to think that we’ve hit a turning point and that statutory bodies might start to get just what musicians and artists can bring to the health and sanity of the nation, in small but significant ways? The future of amateur, community, and professional musicmaking are synergistically bound together and we need all of it in order to change the zeitgeist, tell new and positive stories, as well as keep a whole sector thriving and in work! I see glimmers of hope as the cogs and wheels of the state (Scotland anyway), begin to understand the possibilities that music and the arts can bring. We can help the nation see this through, if we’re given the opportunity, backing, and recognition!

For myself, I am living more in the present with Fun Fiddle, and in my own life, worrying less about organisational development, hall bookings, and enrolments, and instead taking more time to sit back, appreciate just where we have arrived at, and know that what we’ve achieved can’t be blown away overnight, but will cradle us through the storm. Oh yes, and the fiddlers are getting even better at playing the darned instrument!

Watch this video clip of another good Fun Fiddle story on Portobello Prom, in collaboration with Brass Blast. Check out website here

Gica Loening is a community music practitioner, director of Fun Fiddle, and East Lothian Youth Music Initiative Arts Education Officer.