Summer school unites Irish and Ulster-Scots musicians

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

Image caption,
Budding musicians displaying their skills

At Stormont there may be political division over the Irish and Ulster-Scots languages.

But in the world of music, musicians from both traditions are in total harmony.

Many have spent the week playing together at the first Belfast Summer School for Traditional Music.

They have also been teaching more than 150 budding musicians to play almost 20 different instruments.

Fifing, drumming, fiddles and flutes

According to the school's musical director Donal O'Connor - who is also a top traditional musician - partnerships reflect trad's history and heritage.

"Traditional music here in the north is very influenced by the traditional music of Scotland, so it was key to us that we would reflect that," he told BBC News NI.

Image caption,
Donal O'Connor says music brings people together

"So we have fifing, drumming and bagpipes as well as fiddles, flutes, concertinas and Uilleann pipes.

"Music brings people together, and it's one of the ways we think we can push things forward here.

"Tunes from the fifing world have come into the traditional music world and vice-versa.

Image caption,
Events have been taking place across Belfast

"Music doesn't have any boundaries - or barriers or borders for that matter - and that's something we're keen to reflect."

Tara Breen from the Chieftains is one of the other top musicians at the school, as is Steven McWhirter.

Originally from Ahoghill in County Antrim, he is a seven-time world drumming champion and plays in one of the world's leading pipe bands.

Image caption,
Yuliana Pavlova-Scott, who is originally from Siberia, is among those who have taken part

He has been playing alongside Irish traditional musicians during the week.

"Pipe band musicians generally like to be very prepared all the time to give their absolute best performance in a competition," he said.

"But these guys get together 20 minutes before a gig and put sets together and just go for it.

"It's been enlightening for me to be involved with them and see what they're all about."

'Sunshine eyes'

As part of the school, gigs, talks and events have been taking place at venues in the north, south, east and west of the city.

However, the hub for all of the classes during the week has been the Ulster University's Belfast campus in the city's Cathedral Quarter.

Image caption,
Steven McWhirter says it has been enlightening to be involved in the summer school

One of those who has come to learn is Yuliana Pavlova-Scott, who is originally from Siberia in Russia.

"In the summer school I took a class of songs as I'm developing my voice," she said.

"Traditional music is like the soil, and I look at the people and they are happy.

"I see sunshine coming from their eyes and their hearts."

The school ends on Friday, but it has been such a success that plans are already in place to run it again next year.