New festival to celebrate North east tin whistle tradition

A new Festival inspired by a master whistler who revived interest in a north-east musical tradition which came close to dying out will take place in March.
Alex Green is the inspiration behind the new festivalAlex Green is the inspiration behind the new festival
Alex Green is the inspiration behind the new festival

Led by the University of Aberdeen’s Elphinstone Institute and the Friends of Elphinstone Institute, the Alex Green Tin Whistle Festival, will run from 1-3 March in Aberdeen.

The festival, in collaboration with Creative Scotland, Aberdeen Performing Arts, TMSA Aberdeen, WayWord Festival, Fèis Rois, and SC&T Youth, will celebrate the legacy of much-loved North-East tin whistle virtuoso, Alex Green (1930-2017) .The weekend long event is part of a wider education project, which is currently delivering tin whistle lessons to multiple primary schools in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

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Aberdeenshire-born Green became one of the nation’s most accomplished traditional musicians after taking up the tin whistle following an accident which saw him lose two fingers when his hand was caught in machinery at his childhood home, the Mill of Minnes, Udny.

In the years following the Second World War, traditional tin-whistle music, which has a centuries-long association with north-east Scotland, came close to dying out.

Green’s talent – and an unexpected call from long-time friend and BBC Scotland radio and television personality ­Robbie Shepherd, who was looking for a whistle player to join his concert party – played a key role in reviving interest and opportunities to hear the music. He became a key fixture at festivals across Scotland and had numerous radio and television appearances including Opportunity Knocks.

Green toured in France, Germany, Hungary, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Brazil and also played a key role in encouraging others to take up this simple instrument that is capable of producing sophisticated music.

He taught in evening classes, at folk festival workshops, private lessons and following his retirement from Aberdeen College became a peripatetic instructor at primary schools. In 2001 he released one of the few recordings dedicated to Scottish whistle playing, Whistle O’er the Lave O’t, on the Turriff-based Ross Records.

The Festival, organised together with a steering group of local whistle players and advocates and supported by the William Syson Foundation and Creative Scotland, will celebrate his remarkable legacy and showcase today’s tin whistle talent from the north-east and beyond.

Musicians taking part include Mary Bergin, who has been called Ireland’s most important whistle player, Cathal McConnell founder of folk supergroup Boys of the Lough, and Fred Morrison widely regarded as one of the greatest Scottish pipers alive today and a whistle player who has toured internationally.

The project’s artistic director, and PHD student at the Elphinstone Institute, Sara Reith said: “This is the first festival of its kind to be held in the region and its focus acknowledges the important place of the tin whistle within the north-east community. In particular we want to encourage new young players as Alex did to take up this versatile, accessible and endlessly expressive musical instrument.

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“It is dedicated to the efforts of Alex Green to inspire young players, and to bring its uniquely expressive potential as an instrument to the foreground of Scottish traditional music.

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