The Classical Guitar in Belfast Before the Society.
Teaching of the classical guitar at the Belfast School of Music began in the 1960s, and an influential figure involved in this was Joshua van Hagen. Following him the tutors were Norman Watson, Catherine Thom, Gerry O’Gorman (a pupil of Norman Watson), Desmond Taylor and Sam Moreland. Students also attended residential classical guitar weekends to Drumada, Carnlough in the mid 1980s. Amongst the students would have been player-composers Greg Caffrey and Frank Lyons.
Also at about this time the Belfast Guitar Society would have been formed. This organization catered for all styles of guitar playing but was short-lived.
The Beginnings of the Classical Guitar Society 1988/1989
The founders of the Society were David McKittrick and Jim McCullagh. David and Jim were pupils of classical guitar tutors Edwin Mitchell and Gerry O’Gorman who taught at the Belfast School of Music. David and Jim had met at a PACE (Protestant and Catholic Encounter) meeting in Glengormley. Both were enthusiastic about the classical guitar; Jim was also a keen jazz guitarist. The two discussed at length the notion of forming a guitar society and what form such a society should take – should it be classical and jazz or all genres. The idea was discussed with guitar teachers at the Belfast School of Music, including Gerry O’Gorman and Edwin Mitchell. Although initially cautious about the formation of a Classical Guitar Society Gerry soon realized that it was going to happen and wanted to be involved.
Suitable premises were sought and, because David was a member, the Arts Club was suggested. The Arts Club exhibition space (located in Elmwood Avenue) was used initially and this was made available free of charge.
Attempts were made to encourage people to come simply by ringing around and by displaying home made posters and there was reliance on Gerry and Edwin to use their School of Music connections to spread the word. The first meeting was a recital given by Norman Watson. This was followed by performances from Sam Moreland and John Feeley (with a harpsichord player). These recitals attracted audiences of up to 60 and amongst the pieces Sam Moreland played was Recuerdos de la Alhambra. Further publicity was obtained following an appearance on the radio by Jim McCullagh.
In order to generate funds members paid a subscription, but in addition Arts Council support was sought. This was facilitated by David’s membership of the Arts Council panel and his familiarity with the funding process. David knew Martin Lynch, who had experience in setting up voluntary groups and offered assistance where necessary. For example, a constitution was adopted, a committee formed and business minuted. The first professional artiste to give a recital supported by the Society was Brendan McCormack was and this took place in the premises of the Arts Council then in Stranmillis Road. This was the first of a number of concerts supported by the Society.
A pattern of monthly meeting emerged and there was a short season from December to May (monthly, 6 times a year.) Christmas meetings were in Dukes Hotel or La Mon House. The summer BBQ was introduced quite early.
Joy Mitchell joined the committee quite early because of her IT skills.
The first meetings were held in a number of venues including the Ulster Peoples College, Old Crescent Arts Centre and the Old Museum. There was no fixed meeting place until Ulster College of Music was adopted in 1996/7. There have never been more than 30 active members.
There has been a strong link with the players in Derry through the teaching of Gerry O’Gorman and Greg Caffrey at Magee College and this has been strengthened with the return to Derry of Sean Woods in 2001/2.
It was easier to raise money to support concerts prior to 2005. During this period the following artistes were supported:
Hill Wilchinsky Duo
Anne Charand 2000 Ulster College of Music
Galina Vale 2001 Courtyard Theatre Ballyearl
Jason Carter 2001 Bangor Heritage Centre
Sean Woods 2002 Harty Room Queens University
Patrick Zeoli 2002 Harty Room Queens University
Manuel da Pena 2003 Courtyard Theatre Ballyearl
Brendan McCormick ensemble 2004 Days Hotel Belfast
Ten Year Festival at Stranmillis College Belfast (13th-16th August 1998); concerts by Allan Neave, John Feeley, Quodlibet (Philip Richardson with Rachel McGinley), the Minstrel Gallery (Gerry O’Gorman, Edwin Mitchell and Nuala Anthony), and Phil Brown and friends. Teaching was by Allan Neave, John Feeley, Jim McCullagh, Edwin Mitchell, Gerry O’Gorman and Philip Richardson.
Informal meeting with Julian Bream after he played before the official opening of the Waterfront Hall in Belfast. The Society was involved in this because of a connection with Leonard Pugh from the Belfast Music Society. George Lowden met Bream and Bream played one of his guitars.
Performing at the Waterfront Hall for the Belfast Festival
Performing at National Trust Houses – The Argory and Florencecourt
Performing in the Great Hall at Stormont
Performing at the Ards Guitar Festival
Performance of a lunchtime concert at Castlereagh Arts 15th Oct 2001
Performance on Star Radio 2002
Performance on BBC Radio Ulster 2011
David McKittrick and Jim McCullagh became Honorary Life Members in 2001.