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Published: 31 July 2015

By Andy Ross

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Jan Tait and the Bear

The Shetland Islands are known for music and textiles, but they also have a secret craft - storytelling.

Where we work in the North of Yell, one of Shetland's most well-known storytellers, Lawrence Tulloch, used to live. Following in his father, Tom's, footsteps Lawrence used to tell his stories to us and one of my favourites is Jan Tait and the Bear. This tale of a Fetlar man, who killed the king's tax-collector and was banished from the kingdom to search for and kill a bear that was terrorising the neightbourhood, took place not only in Fetlar but on the island of Linga (pronounced "Lingey") just offshore in Gutcher. Every morning when I wake up, the first thing I can see is Linga and the final home of the bear who lived there after Jan Tait brought him back to Shetland instead of destroying him. 

It has been great fun to be part of a chamber opera written by Canadian composer Emily Doolittle for the local group ffancytunes to perform. We have been rehearsing and working to get the piece together for its first outing as a concert performance this weekend. A few guests will be in attendance in the Sellafirth Hall to listen to the music and we will then have a chat about taking the piece around the islands next year. Funny, poignant and very singable, the opera has been a welcome antidote to painting and getting our studio ready. Thanks Meilo and ffancytunes for the opportunity, and Emily for writing such a good piece. I will let you all know when we are performing and hope you can come to see it next year.