This week South West College Omagh is playing host to the Red Balloon Guitar Workshop, organised by the Enda Dolan Foundation, set up in honour of Enda Dolan, who sadly passed away in October 2014. Now in its second year, the workshop continues to grow, and this week has offered guitar tutorship to around sixty students aged eight and up.
The education and enjoyment on offer to the children at the workshop is obvious. As they attend classes and demonstrations on everything from basic chord work to songwriting, their enthusiasm is easy to see; the youngsters involved last year talk enthusiastically about how they’re practising a song they first learned twelve months ago, while those attending for the first time insist they’ll continue to play when the week is over.
Peter Dolan, Enda’s father and one of the event co-ordinator’s, talks about the workshop with pride. He says, ‘Enda was a guitarist, and we thought it would be great if we could encourage young people to use the instrument and steer them in the right direction. Enda was a student of Architecture at Queen’s University, but I think really that was only a front, he really wanted to be a rock star. The idea of having a guitar workshop and getting young people in, encouraging them and enhancing their skills, was a great concept. It’s just great to hear the sounds of the guitar, and over the week you can hear them evolving and getting better and growing in confidence.’
The young tutors involved are central to the events success. Peter says, ‘We have some great guitar tutors here, and they’re all rock stars in their own right. They’re fantastic players and they’re showcasing and handing down their skills. It’s a two way process, because some of them are learning new skills too.’
One of these volunteers is Conal O’Kane, a friend of Enda’s who got involved with the event when it began last year. Conal says, ‘It was a great success last summer and has improved again this time round. There’s a great mixture of beginners, intermediates and kids that have been playing for a number of years.’ Conal, who has experience teaching the guitar from his own home, says the week is an invaluable experience for himself too. ‘I’ve taught a few of the kids here this week, but it’s a different environment when there’s so many of them together. I’m studying music now and can see myself doing a PGCE in the future, so this experience is fantastic.’
Elsewhere, other volunteer’s can appreciate the experience the children are getting. Ryan Murphy, who used to play in a band with Enda, came along to the event on Wednesday. As a self-taught singer-songwriter, Ryan believes he can offer a different point of view. ‘Being self-taught, it took me a year to learn some of the things these kids will pick up over the course of this week. I can see the advantages they will get out of this, so feel I’m in a good position to encourage them.’
A special guest at the event was Mark McCausland from the band Lost Brothers. Mark, who has recently opened up a record shop in Omagh (Boneyard records), was introduced by event co-ordinator, Larry Lowe as ‘a local boy made good, who travels the world playing big concerts with famous artists.’ As part of Lost Brothers, Mark has recorded in Portland, Nashville and Sheffield, and shared some of his experience with the Red Balloon students, talking about his life in music, the hard work that’s required and the bits of luck you need along the way. He told the students, ‘It’s not always easy, and you do sometimes question yourself, but you have to keep going, believe in your vision and remind yourself that this is what you want to do.'
We’re seeing that there’s still a great passion for music in the local area. The guitar is a very simple format, but when you get it in your hand and learn to put a few chords together, you can really feel it. - Larry Lowe
Peter Dolan was quick to praise Mark, and explained, ‘We’re lucky that we’ve had a number of well-known guitar players and musicians from the local area here this week. They’ve come in, talked about their career, their inspirations, and how they got into music. It’s great for the young people to hear these things, because then they can think “I love what I do, and maybe I can even have a career from it.”’
Larry Lowe reflected further on the event, highlighting how it has improved in its second year. ‘Last year was our first attempt at this and we weren’t entirely sure of everything we were doing, but this time round we’ve really learned from experience. We’re seeing that there’s still a great passion for music in the local area. The guitar is a very simple format, but when you get it in your hand and learn to put a few chords together, you can really feel it. You think to yourself this is rock and roll, or this is country, or blues, or whatever it is you’re into. This is all coming out of the kids this week and it’s great to watch how they’re improving and enjoying the experience.’
Larry finished by once again highlighting why everyone was there in the first place. He said, ‘I taught Enda the guitar when he was young, and this week gives us a chance to have him back in our lives again. We can connect with him, and he’s very present with us.’ These sentiments were evident across the workshop from all those involved. Tutor, Conal O’Kane summed up the event as ‘a great experience, exactly the sort of thing Enda would have loved, and something which will go on for years and years to come.’ With the insight and enjoyment that the Red Balloon Guitar Workshop has once again offered to children, tutors and organisers alike, there is little doubt that he’s right.