Traditional music classes bridging the religious divide

Some students from the various Fasttrad classes, Catriona Carmichael (Maghery), Elsie Allen (Birches), Cara McKernan (Birches area), Siobhan
Quinn (Portadown), Colin Donnelly (Portadown) Jazalyn Martin (Portadown), Grace Farrell (Bleary), Aileen Litter (Portadown), Dillan Gosney (Portadown).
Some students from the various Fasttrad classes, Catriona Carmichael (Maghery), Elsie Allen (Birches), Cara McKernan (Birches area), Siobhan Quinn (Portadown), Colin Donnelly (Portadown) Jazalyn Martin (Portadown), Grace Farrell (Bleary), Aileen Litter (Portadown), Dillan Gosney (Portadown).
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The perception that traditional music is for just one side of the community is a myth currently being exploded in Portadown.

Fasttrad, a project which teaches instruments ranging from the tin whistle to the banjo, has members spanning all ages and from both the Catholic and Protestant traditions.

In fact, the group began with 27 members just four years ago and has mushroomed to its current membership of 115.

And that figure is set to grow when Fasttrad moves from St John the Baptist PS to the bigger venue of St John the Baptist’s College (formerly Drumcree College) from Monday, April 24.

It is expected that as many as eight classes will run simultaneously, with 11 tutors at the group’s disposal,

Maghery woman Mary Fox, who along with husband Ian Carmichael is one of the tutors, said the group’s popularity had spread by word of mouth.

While most of the group is made up of children and young people, around 25 are adults, many of whom have joined through their children.

One of the most recent recruits, said Mary, is a 75-year-old man from the Church of Ireland tradition who had always had a tin whistle at home but never knew how to play it. He is now a member of the adult whistle class.

She added, “The biggest group is the 6-18 years and we have children from Clounagh JHS, the Birches PS, St Mary’s Maghery, St John the Baptist PS, Portadown Integrated PS and Banbridge High.

“We have just come back from a residential in Tobermore, with classes given by some of the north’s finest musicians, and the feedback has been fantastic.”

The project, whose aim is to re-educate communities about their shared heritage through music, is supported by Arts Council NI, Children in Need and ABC Council.

The classes in tin whistle, fiddle, flute, bodhran, button accordion, mandolin and banjo run on Mondays from 3.30-7.30, with an average weekly cost of £2.50.

“Learning music is one of the most positive ways to bring people together who want to develop a skill, make friends and have the ‘craic’ with like-minded people.

“We have some of the friendliest, open-minded and creative people living here and they are keen for their children to live in harmony,” said Mary.

To book a place or find out more telephone 07711 987 182, email allset@btinternet.com or find FASTTRAD on Facebook.