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Vibrant school of music marks 25 years of nurturing young students

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Date Published: {J}

BY BERNIE NÍ FHLATHARTA

Thousands of children and young adults from Galway City and County have learned their music at the School of Music which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year at its home in the Galway Technical Institute in Galway City.

The children who come from near and far, are aged from six upwards and many of them have since gone on to pursue music at third level while most of the current students make up the bulk of the Galway Youth Orchestra, which practices every Saturday in the common room at the GTI on Fr Griffin Road.

In fact any Saturday or any evening after 5pm from Monday to Thursday, you will hear the sound of music emanating from the classrooms on the school’s three levels. There’s the violin, the viola, classical and modern guitar, a few woodwind instruments, keyboards and the trumpet and that doesn’t cover all the instruments that are being taught there. A walk through the corridors of the school during these classes leaves you in no doubt that the teaching of music is very much alive in the City of the Tribes.

As well as all the practical aspect of learning musical instruments, students are taught the theory of music and a there is also a range of Post Leaving Cert courses at the GTI on many aspects of music technology and broadcasting. Tuition for these courses involves the school’s own radio station, which is streamed internally, as well as a state of the art recording studio, which is sometimes used by professional musicians.

But mostly the Art Deco building, erected in 1938 on what was then wasteland, is home to the School of Music, a scheme set up in the mid1980s by the Galway City Vocational Education Board, partly in response to a growing demand for some sort of formal music education in a city that was just gaining a reputation for its arts and culture.

It seemed the whole town at the time – the ’80s – was baying for a school or a college of music. A few premises were mentioned as being suitable venues, one being the former Redemptorist home, Cluain Mhuire in Wellpark. Its high-ceilinged rooms were considered ideal acoustically. But of course this didn’t happen and the GMIT took it over for their film and television department.

For a time, it was thought that University College Galway (since renamed NUI Galway) would set up a third level course and eventually a Chair of Music was formed in the college but was never filled because of the absence of a feeder school in the catchment area.

To this day, every once in a while there is the sporadic call for a ‘school of music’ for Galway. Meanwhile many people are completely unaware of the level of music that is actually being taught in the city and county week in, week out, not only in the GTI but in private homes, mostly in voice coaching and piano lessons.

In fact, the call for the school of music is like waving a red rag to a bull for Jimmy Brick, Principal of the GTI.

A Kerry native and a former city councillor, Jimmy has lived in Galway City for over 30 years and is proud of his school’s achievements, especially the School of Music.

“A school of music is not about a big, white marble building with concert halls and music rooms. It’s about the teaching of music and that is certainly going on here and has been going on here for nearly 25 years.

“It annoys me when I hear these calls for a school of music and people saying that Galway’s cultural hub isn’t complete without such a school, but if we were to wait for a formal, physical, dedicated building before we could teach a note, we would be waiting forever,” he says passionately.

Jimmy proudly oversees thousands of students every year at GTI between full-time pupils, those in adult education and those learning music in the evenings and Saturdays.

What used to be a technical school, known as ‘the Tech’ has certainly evolved over the years. One of the framed newspaper articles hanging up in the ground-floor corridor boasts that the newly-built school in 1938 was going to teach women to be domestic goddesses. In fact one of the bigger classrooms upstairs, which is now where hairdressing is taught, used to be the domestic science room. The huge fireplace surround is still visible but the big range is replaced by cupboards full of hairdressing supplies and clean towels.

The GTI is one of those institutions that has responded to the demands from the community over the years and moved away from the traditional trades when the demand for Post Leaving Cert courses increased.

Nowadays, the GTI is a hive of activity for all ages because it has opened its doors to schemes like the School of Music, which attracts children as young as five and six to adult evening classes.

It was this flexibility in the mid 1980s that led to the then VEC committee responding to the demand for the formal teaching of music to include a wide array of instruments outside piano and instruments traditionally associated with Irish music, such as the tin whistle and button accordion.

Jimmy says that the scheme was always going to be self-financing – in other words paid by parents – but with the assistance of 1,000 teaching hours from the GTI, an arrangement that exists to this day.

For more, read page 27 of this week’s City Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

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A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.

 

For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Looking sharp as Cœirt approaches

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Date Published: 11-Apr-2013

 Images of books and pencils will be placed outside Tí Neachtain on Quay Street this weekend as a reminder to people that the Cúírt International Festival of Literature is on its way,

Every year Cúirt creates displays of writing tools in venues around the city, reflecting the themes of the event. This year, shop windows in Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop, Dubray’s Books, Busker Brownes and McCambridges will feature. These windows will display headshots of participating Cuirt authors, themes from their books and emblems of authors.

The Tí Neachtain window display will be centred on The Crime Panel, reflecting the strong input from crime writers into this year’s festival. Meanwhile other windows feature literary quotes in vinyl. This year’s Cúirt symbol of a typewriter will also feature prominently.

Cuirt begins on April 23. The official launch will take place in The Hotel Meyrick at 6.15pm on Wednesday, April 24 when President of Ireland Michael D Higgins will do the honours.

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Archive News

Political gatherings in the west prove stark reminder of contrasting fortunes

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Date Published: 17-Apr-2013

 Two parties held their party conferences last weekend – and both present pictures of deeply contrasting fortunes.

One is on the rise. Another has fallen and the words equine and deceased and flogging come to mind every time you think about its chances of recovery.

We’ll start with the latter first. The Greens held its convention in Galway over the course of the weekend. Not only has the party’s fortunes diminished but it has also taken on a guise of secrecy. It didn’t really publicise its convention and it consequently hardly caused a ripple in the national media. As Connacht Tribune journalist Ciaran Tierney wittily but cruelly tweeted at the weekend, the convention might have been held in the snug at Tigh Neachtain.

Eighty kilometres up the road in Castlebar, Sinn Fein was holding its Ard Fheis. In contrast, it got saturation coverage. You couldn’t switch on TV or open a newspaper without seeing Mary Lou McDonald’s copious new beehive or a full frontal Gerry Adams’ smile.

In 2007 the shoe was on the other foot. Six years ago the Greens held an annual conference in Galway, attended by hundreds of delegates. The party seemed on an upswing then and there was widespread coverage of the conference, with lots of talks of the Greens going into government.

The polls showed that they could add to their six Dail seats and become a real force in Irish politics. By contrast, whatever about the North, Sinn Fein was struggling to assert itself in the south. It had four TDs in 2007 but the polls suggested it was not capturing the public imagination.

As events unfolded, both parties underperformed in the 2007 general elections. Society seemed settled and content then (it was the height of the Celtic Tiger after all) and smaller parties got squeezed as voters plumped for the two established parties.

Labour flat-lined at 20 seats. The Greens went into the election with six seats and emerged with six seats. Sinn Fein saw its total fall from five seats to four. The Progressive Democrats got wiped completely. And the number of independents also fell from 13 to five.

The story of the subsequent years is well known. The Greens went into government with Fianna Fáil and did okay for about two years until the economic crisis was fully felt. Afterwards it was all downhill. Both parties lashed themselves to the mast of a ship sinking in a hurricane and tried to do what they could to keep it afloat.

The party lost all its seats at the last election. What was half forgotten too was that it had a lousy local election in 2009 and lost 13 of its sixteen council seats. And then to compound its misery, the party failed to get two per cent of the national vote. What that meant was that it did not qualify for any State funding.

So when it began to survey the mess in 2011, all it had were three county councillors and it was broke.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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