Arts

Trad / Roots: Belfast launches its first traditional music summer school

Today sees the launch of the first summer school of traditional Irish music in Belfast, an exciting development for the city's trad community, that promises an impressive line-up of tutors and events

Duke Special and Ulaid will help launch the Belfast Summer School of Traditional Music today
Robert McMillen

ONE of the most exciting developments in traditional music is on the horizon as Duke Special and Ulaid get ready to launch the first ever Belfast Summer School of Traditional Music today.

No longer will budding musicians in the north have to take arduous journeys to the deep south of the country to experience the musical magic and the camaraderie they get in the likes of the Willie Clancy Summer School in Milltown Malbay. Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter will be home to a galaxy of A-list trad teachers with concerts and sessions happening in the city’s four corners, as well as lectures, recitals and performances between July 31 and August 4.

The summer school will see the fulfilling of a dream treasured by Ray Morgan, the man behind the Glengormley School of Traditional Music, which has nurtured over 1,900 budding musicians in the past 15 years.

“The idea of a running a summer school in Belfast is something that’s been floating about in my head for around six years,” he says. “It probably came from seeing so many of the kids that I knew from the Glengormley school having to go down to Co Clare or to Co Leitrim to attend summer schools.

“It wasn’t so much the ones who had to do the travelling as much as the ones who couldn’t go because the schools were too far away or their parents hadn’t got the commitment or the money wasn’t there and I thought it was a shame that those kids didn’t have the same opportunity to get the incredible improvement in their playing that a week of intensive tuition gives you.

“Someone said to me that they’d been to a week-long summer school and that it was like a year’s tuition all in one. But not only that, there is the whole social aspect that is all about making friends and, combined with the music, I think the summer school could lead to the development of an even more vibrant traditional music community here in the city,” says Ray.

There certainly is a grá for trad in Belfast. Andersonstown School of Traditional and Contemporary music is probably the biggest in the city and we have the Glengormley school of traditional music which is very strong in the north of the city, there is a lot of private tuition going on and not just kids but grown-ups as well.

Belfast Trad, based in the Crescent Arts Centre, offers 40 classes per week in traditional Irish music and dance and then you have traditional music being taught in schools where you have musicians coming in to teach traditional music in primary schools, for example.

So with that solid foundation, Ray approached musician and producer, Dónal O’Connor, about the possibility of setting up a summer school. Dónal, of course, was suitably enthused.

“I understood what it was like to go through them as a child, and also later on to teach at some of them so I knew what needed to be provided for to have one in Belfast. However, most of the other summer schools are held in country towns and Belfast is a city so there’ll be a different feeling about this one in that it is based in a big working-class city with some particular features that maybe wouldn’t be the case elsewhere. Hopefully the whole cross-community aspect of it will make it really stand out," says Dónal.

Of course, it’s the tuition which is at the heart of any trad summer school and the inaugural BSSoTM will feature the likes of Kevin Crawford (flute), John McSherry + Colin Harper (Uilleann Pipes), Ed Boyd (Guitar), Ríoghnach Connolly and Maurice Leyden (Traditional Singing) taking classes but there will be so much more happening during the festival.

“Alan McDonald from the famous piping clan is giving a talk, ‘Éire and Alba: Common Repertoires’, which will take place in the Skainos Centre. That’s very exciting, looking at the different tunes that crossed Sruth na Maoile. Alan is formidable and a world leader in the world of bagpiping. He has a great love of Irish music so he’ll give us a great insight,” says Dónal.

“David Angus and our own Harry Bradley (it’s a real coup for us to have him back!) will have a talk on the Belfast flute and piping traditions.

Pupils of the Glengormley School of Traditional Music in full swing

“We’re also giving taster classes with seven-time world pipe band drumming champion Steven McWhirter. People can come along and have a go at a snare drum. We’re doing the same with the harp with Laoise Kelly and the same with the bodhrán with John Joe Kelly – one of, if not the, best bodhrán player in the world.

Ray doesn’t see this as a one-off event; there is a long-term plan.

“We hope there are many more. We really want to highlight the musical traditions of this island, Belfast in particular. We wanted to pepper it with some leading exponents of traditional music from here and we also then wanted to incorporate the musical traditions of piping, fighting and drumming.

"Including those elements in the summer school has given us something that we haven’t seen elsewhere. It gives this summer school a particular flavour and a flavour of the traditions of this part of the world."

It’s no wonder then that people from all over Ireland and England, the USA and even Israel have been signing up for the summer school, which is being launched today at 4pm in the Dark Horse in the Cathedral Quarter.

Ray Morgan

Tonight there will be a fundraising concert in Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich with Duke Special and a trad super group, featuring the aforementioned Dónal O’Connor, John McSherry and Seán Óg Graham, with support from Dan Brouder and Angelina Barberry.

Another Fundraising concert in support of BSSTM will be held in the Duncairn Arts Centre on May 26, featuring Alan Burke, Grainne Holland, Diane Cannon and musicians and singers from Glengormley School of Traditional Music.

For more information, watch this space...

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