Wednesday, 7 October 2009

International Connexions with Russia and Japan

One of the most satisfying links enjoyed by the Robert Burns World Federation is with the charity, The St Petersburg Forum, which has its roots in an association forged between Scotland and Russia during the 900-day siege of Leningrad in WWII. As a token of solidarity during the siege, the women of Airdrie and Coatbridge sent an Album of Friendship to the women of Leningrad (now known as St Petersburg) which had a huge impact on morale and so began the link with Scotland. In the mid-nineties the St Petersburg Forum charity was set up and one of its major initiatives is to organise schools competitions with a Scottish theme. The winners of the ‘Knowledge of Scotland’ competition are rewarded with a two-week tour of Scotland and I had the pleasure of meeting this year’s winners on two occasions. The first was in the Globe Inn, Dumfries, on Sunday 27th September, where the Russian students were joined by local Scottish youngsters for an evening concert organised by Jane Brown, the manager of the Globe Inn and an ardent supporter of the St Petersburg Forum. On the Russian side, Liza Kozunova and Veronica Shcheveleva gave their humorous take on the tradition of Hogmanay and Victor Zheltyannikakov enlightened us on the history of the Stone of Destiny, all of them displaying an impressive mastery of the English language. Corin Halliday led off the Scottish side with his stirring bagpiping followed by recitations and songs from Megan Mulgrew, Heather McCafferty and Sean McKenzie with Bethany Hanley chipping in with her spirited bagpiping. A most enjoyable evening.

Russian students with Young Burnsians and piper

The second occasion was two days later in the Eastwood Theatre, Giffnock, where the Russian students were joined by clarsach players Clara Wheeler and Cheryl Turner from St Ninians High School, both members of the East Renfrewshire Symphony Orchestra which will be touring St Petersburg next June. On this occasion Veronica gave a very moving address on the Holocaust Memorial Garden in Pushkin, Victor displayed his virtuosity on the classical guitar and Liza performed a brilliant gypsy dance which had the audience clapping enthusiastically. The photograph shows the three St Petersburg students, me, and Councillor Alan Lafferty the Education Convenor for East Renfrewshire Council. On the wall behind are some of the paintings from the Forum’s art competition organised by May McMaster. Also taking part were Helen Morrison, Anne Fawbert, and Tom and Elizabeth Clark, all doing splendid work with the Forum.

Keeping up the international theme, I spent a very enjoyable day, on Wednesday 30 September, with a Japanese journalist, Yoichi Haruyama, a staff writer on the Saturday edition of Japan’s largest selling newspaper The Asahi Shimbun which has an 8 million daily circulation. He is researching the origin of Auld Lang Syne so Burns Chronicle Editor, Peter Westwood, and I took him, and his very accomplished translator Yuko Satoh to Ellisland Farm to show him the very room in which Burns wrote his great anthem which is so popular in Japan that many people there believe it is a Japanese song! The article is due out by the end of the year and we have been promised an advance copy. We also showed them the Globe Inn, where they enjoyed the superb Cullen Skink soup, and Jane Brown kindly gave them a conducted tour of Burns’ favourite howff before we rounded of the tour with a visit to Burns House and the Mausoleum at St Michael’s Church. The photograph shows from left to right: Yoichi Katuyama, me, Yuko Satoh, Les Byers Curator at Ellisland Farm, Peter Westwood and Ronnie Cairns, Chairman of The Friends of Ellisland

Continuing the Japanese theme, my wife Pat and I were invited to a private viewing of Japanese Art and Crafts in the Dovecot Studio, Edinburgh, organised by Kozo Yoshino on behalf of the Victor Murphy Memorial Trust and opened by the Consul General of Japan, Mr Masataka Tarahara. The invitation stemmed from a guided tour I had given Kozo, and some visiting guests, of Broughton House, the National Trust of Scotland property in Kirkcudbright, with its wonderful Burns Collection and Japanese paintings by Edward Atkinson Hornel. Mixing with other guests I became even more aware of the popularity of Burns in Japan, especially his songs, yet again reinforcing the impact of Burns’ international appeal.

1 comment:

  1. Great to read these reports Mike...and the photos are an excellent touch. Keep up the good work.