Colin O'Riordan Trust

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:14 pm on 24th January 2002.

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Photo of Angus MacKay Angus MacKay Labour 5:14 pm, 24th January 2002

I suppose that I should begin the debate by thanking the process through which we secure members' business debates. I do not understand the process, but I am glad to have secured my first such debate.

I also begin with a confession: I never had the privilege of meeting Dr Colin O'Riordan, which is unfortunate. I recall that, during my time at school, my brief interlude with music resulted in one day with a recorder—I did not really know one end of the instrument from the other. That was a sad state of affairs and it is the experience of too many school children in Scotland—certainly it was in my day.

Music brings so much to the lives of so many people by developing their individual skills and the richness and quality of their lives. It is clear that Dr Colin O'Riordan played an immense role throughout his life doing just that in his professional duties and beyond.

One reason why I sought to secure tonight's debate was simply because of the process that I went through upon hearing about the life and work of Dr O'Riordan. I had never heard of him, but when close colleagues in the Parliament—one of whom, Sarah Boyack, I hope will be called to speak later—mentioned him to me, I assumed that they had been taught by him. I assumed that they were talking of their personal experience and that it was a happy coincidence that they should have known him.

In the days following, however, and particularly with the establishment of the trust and the report in the newspapers, I was deluged with e-mails and letters from, and had conversations with, individuals who were taught by the late Dr O'Riordan or whose children benefited from the support he had given them. That growing experience made clear to me the sheer magnitude of the impact through music of this man's life and work upon the lives of others.

Sadly, Dr O'Riordan died last October. It is evident that he was one of Scotland's foremost musical educators. He benefited literally thousands of young people not only throughout Edinburgh and the Lothians, but in the whole of Scotland.

Perhaps at this point I should say that despite what the motion says about the work Dr O'Riordan did with Sciennes Primary School, he had an impact on a fantastic number of schools and orchestras and touched thousands of lives. I do not want the terms of the motion to suggest a narrowness of impact, because the work that Dr O'Riordan did had a genuinely profound impact on an enormous number of institutions and lives. I want to ensure that the record is put straight on that point.

It is clear that Dr O'Riordan believed strongly in the importance of developing the self-confidence, social skills and talents of young people from all backgrounds. I do not think that any member of the Parliament or any person in the chamber tonight will dissent from that view.

Dr O'Riordan's work proceeded over a period of about 30 years, during which time it seems he touched the lives of many people. That is why I wanted the opportunity to record in the Parliament and the Official Report of this evening's debate a testament to his work in Scotland and a recognition of the value of the Colin O'Riordan Trust, which his family established, and the work it hopes to do. It seeks to support musical excellence in Scotland, particularly by trying to support young musicians—for example, those who might find themselves in financial difficulty trying to acquire access to instruments. Its purpose is also to establish access to master-class tuition and development for musicians who have a particular skill that they would like to develop.

The trust applies its means and intentions to a wide age bracket. On that score, it is appropriate to consider January's fundraising event in the name of the trust at the Usher Hall. My understanding is that the original intention was to hold the event in the Queen's Hall, but that it had to be moved to the Usher Hall because of the sheer volume of applications for tickets. That in itself is testimony to the popularity of Dr O'Riordan and the sincere feelings of gratitude that many feel for his work.

I have been told that, on the night of the concert, so many people turned up that some had to be turned away at the door. I do not know whether that is true but, given the warmth of emotion that people have expressed, it would not surprise me if it were. I think that some full-time orchestras would be heavily tasked to try to fill the Usher Hall on a January night.

Many of Dr O'Riordan's former pupils asked to participate in the concert, but had to be denied the opportunity as more than enough individuals were willing to support the event. I understand that it raised about £17,000 for the trust. It is worth paying tribute to those who put so much effort into organising the event.

I want to say a few words about the City of Edinburgh Music School, which Dr Colin O'Riordan assisted in setting up; he played an important role as a member of the working party that developed the school 21 years ago. It is a unique specialist music school that caters for talented youngsters aged four to 19. The music school is funded by the new Scottish Executive excellence fund and does not charge any fees.

To put the quality of the City of Edinburgh Music School into perspective, I point out that Sir Simon Rattle CBE is its patron. I understand that students from Edinburgh, the rest of Scotland and as far afield as Russia, Mexico, Korea and Japan audition for places on any instrument, playing any style of music they wish. That is the quality of development work that Dr O'Riordan was involved in.

I do not pretend to have known Dr O'Riordan. I will not try to describe him as an individual or to set out his qualities—I am sure that many of the members who approached me before the debate will do that in their speeches. I will finish simply by saying that it is clear that Colin O'Riordan was an ordinary Scot but also an extraordinary Scot—one who gave much more than a professional salary and terms and conditions require of any individual. If we have more Scots like Dr Colin O'Riordan, we will be a much richer culture and a much better country.