Keep playing, guys (and think about a name-change)

imagesOK – let me come clean. My appetite for classical music is strictly limited. If I know the symphony (not many of those) or overture (more likely) or concerto or whatever it is, I can usually sit and enjoy it. But if it’s new to me, my bum’s comfort wins out over my musical appetite. And another thing – I’m not mad about  the Ulster Orchestra calling itself the Ulster Orchestra, any more than I’m mad about the University of Ulster (now the Ulster University – spot the difference? Nah – me neither) or Radio Ulster, when what all three mean is Northern Ireland. If the Ulster Orchestra gigs regularly in Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan, my apologies.

That said, the fact that the plug is about to be pulled on the Ulster Orchestra raises my hackles more than a bit. Because music, whatever its nature, has the potential to reach parts of the soul that nothing else can. It’s like drugs – you don’t know why it makes you feel this way but you like it and you keep coming back for more. So why not listen to it on a CD or a download or whatever? Because recorded music is to live music as a riot on your screen is to a riot outside your front door: the difference is qualitative.

In the end it’s a question of priorities. You might say that it’s more important to keep the health service going than to keep an orchestra going. True. But is it more important to keep weapons of mass destruction going (you’re paying for them, you do know that?) or tanks or bazookas or rockets or the rest of the menu of death going than it is to have music played which at times can ravish the soul? Sometimes people selling the arts try to do it on a commercial basis: it brings tourists, it enhances international reputation, it encourages investment, blah blah blah. Codswallop and horse-shit. Music and the arts generally exist and should go on existing because they feed the parts of us that make us most human. Explain, in some weird way, why we’re here and what it means. Or struggles to do so. Listen to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony – you know, the one they play as the European international anthem – and tell me that’s a fiddly optional add-on that nobody would miss.

That, in my confused way, is why I’d like to smash a cello over the head of people who are intent on killing a local source of joy and pleasure and wonder. I know classical music is a minority taste but it still matters. It’s like saying Shakespeare isn’t wildly popular so let’s scrap the Royal Shakespeare Company. The Ulster Orchestra is part of our armoury of the soul, and to blitz it is to blitz away part of all our souls. They’ve a Facebook page, you know. Save the Ulster Orchestra. Hurry there and throw your support behind them. Even if like me your bum gets sore after too much classical music, they’re still part of the good stuff in life as distinct from the poisonous stuff in life. So just do it.

12 Responses to Keep playing, guys (and think about a name-change)

  1. Paul Devlin October 28, 2014 at 6:04 pm #

    Language, Timothy! There’s always the RTE National Symphony Orchestra, unless like the UO, it too ends at Dromintee.
    You know what else gets my goat – every effing Halloween, Paul Clarke of UTV news uses the word ‘spooktacular’ several dozen times. KNOCK IT ON THE HEAD, CLARKEY!

    • eamonn mac Diarmada October 29, 2014 at 12:08 am #

      I agree whole heartily with anyone who wants to save any part of the arts,but your knowledge
      of the effects of drugs worries me ,Would the cello over the head scenario be the effects or the lack of drugs ,,,,

  2. paddykool October 28, 2014 at 6:17 pm #

    Well said , Jude. Music and art is what keeps humanity human .When they’re about to turn on the oven s and cremate our poor bodies in the hell camps.When the titanic is sinking .When the slaver’s lash is ripping the flesh off our backs in the fields. It’s the music that gives succour and reminds us that there’s more to us than a predatory killing machine.Like i said before …..Handel or Hendrix…it’s all the same stuff to me….

  3. neill October 28, 2014 at 6:29 pm #

    Oh my God I agree with you (bar the part about Ulster) it is essential that this is maintained for musical culture is part of our very soul!

    • Jude Collins October 28, 2014 at 7:05 pm #

      Good God! People will start talking, neill….

      • Neill October 28, 2014 at 8:11 pm #

        Sure people always talk Jude…

  4. Jude Collins October 28, 2014 at 7:19 pm #



    I appreciate the theory of subsidising an orchestra for Northern Ireland, or maybe even an all-Ireland orchestra.
    But would I regret the demise of the Ulster Orchestra? No. I would not go near them or their performance.
    To me they are a glorified brass band, they can produce plenty of volume, but quality – in very short supply.
    On a recent visit to Budapest, one of the poorer, former Communist countries of Europe, I visited their opera house.
    This winter season the Hungarian State Orchestra are playing for two operas, Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci and a ballet, Sylphyde.
    On two evenings of the week seven or eight of the strings section (the Duna String Orchestra) make use of a church to play concerts from a wide repertoire of classical and popular music suited to strings. There may be other sections from the orchestra playing at other venues in the country that I am aware of,
    This means that they are gainfully employed for most nights of every week, and I am sure, with their popularity, they are financially self-sustaining.
    Their popularity (not just with the upper/middle class) is due in no small measure to the quality of their playing – absolutely scintillating, Unfortunately for us in NI there is no comparison with the Ulster Orchestra.

    • Am Ghobsmacht October 30, 2014 at 1:59 am #

      But Sherdy, by a similar token would their quality not be related to their demand and popularity?

      A violin in Ireland is a thing used to make drunk people jump up and down.

      In the former communist republics it’s a link back to former times and Budapest was one of the cultural hotbeds of late 19th/early 20th century Europe (as I’m very sure that you know already given that you written words that I can’t even splutter).

      NI needs something to keep it’s cultural nucleus alive and the UO help with that task. People like me wouldn’t have a clue how bad they sound, but I’m just glad they’re there.

  5. Ryan October 28, 2014 at 8:11 pm #

    Jude, the main reason why I support the Ulster Orchestra is because David Vance is opposed to it. You just know your doing something right when David Vance is opposed to it.

  6. Tamas October 30, 2014 at 2:36 pm #

    Just a few facts:

    There has never been a “Hungarian State Orchestra”.

    The Hungarian State Concert Orchestra which has been the signature orchestra of Hungary in the second half of the 20th century is no longer in existence. The premier orchestra is the National Philharmonic.

    The Opera in Budapest has it’s own orchestra.

    Since I’ve never heard of the mentioned Duna String Orchestra I Googled it and it came up with a few bad reviews on Trip Advisor as a small strings group aimed at tourists. Definitely not a group to compare the Ulster Orchestra with which has a great international reputation.

    None of the professional orchestras in Hungary (nor anywhere in the world for that matter) are financially self-sustaining. If they were, only the wealthiest would be able to afford to buy tickets to see and hear them.

    I hope I’m not the only one who doesn’t want to live in a world where I have to buy my boys a cd because I can’t take them to a concert. Download some images because I can’t take them to a museum to let them see great works of art. Put them in front of a TV so they can watch a great play, opera or ballet. That’s what you would end up doing if the arts disappeared.

    It’s very interesting, that countries which recently became wealthy ( like the UAE, Quatar etc.) spend incredible amounts of money to bring culture in by building museums, founding new orchestras and schools. They do all that with good reason. At the same time here in Europe culture and education is the first thing that gets cut. Very sad and very scary.

    • pretzellogic October 31, 2014 at 5:17 pm #


      Stop making sense!

  7. Glenn June 1, 2015 at 1:26 am #

    And so your take on things is that “ulster” should be removed from every institute in Northern Ireland, because you would like the term “ulster” to be solely attributed to some former, English defined, 9 county administrative unit of an all island federation.

    Following through with that logic, then all institutes in the Republic of Ireland, should remove “Ireland” from their title, as this too eludes to a former, English defined, all island federation that hasn’t existed from that part of the UK left the union nearly a century ago.

    Perhaps you just don’t realise that “Ulster” has been predominately bounded within the borders of Northern Ireland, except of course, when the English introduced their county system of administration.

    In summary, Northern Ireland institutions have every right to used the term Ulster, whilst the Republic of Ireland institutions have no historical right to used the term “Ireland”.
    But, what’s really going on here is blatant republican cultural ethnic cleansing, is it not?