What do you get when you mix a thunderous drumbeat, a tuneful Christian hymn, and a church minister who is spreading the Gospel? A flute band with a difference, that’s what.
Five years since the Flute Band Church was first formed, the minister at its head is as determined as ever to show there is another side to marching bands – away from associations with drinking and sectarianism, as one member put it.
Sixteen members, ranging in age from young teens to over-40s, gather weekly for band practice, tea and a chat, as part of Rev William Orr’s efforts to re-connect with a scene that he says has often not been strongly associated with the Christian faith.
And now Rev Orr is planning a Province-wide survey of band members to find out more about what is important to them.
“We will hopefully be going out to other band practices to engage on that local scene and find out what those members believe about their culture and their Christian heritage, if they have any,” Rev Orr told the News Letter.
On joining Muckamore Parish as rector of Muckamore, Killead and Gartree in 2007, he found that while more than 90 per cent of the surrounding estates in the parish were Protestant, just 10 per cent of local people were practising their faith.
As church secretary Ricky Hunter admitted, there was and is a level of apprehension about how they will be received by bands where religion has not been an aspect of the practice.
“It can be scary and intimidating but we have to get out there and do it,” he said.
“There is not point in just sitting here playing to ourselves.”
To that end, Rev Orr said he is looking forward to a fundraising concert in Rathfriland High School soon, adding that they have enjoyed a very positive reception since they formed.
“While we don’t go on parade or anything like that we have had a few performances and people seem to like what we do – it’s a bit different,” he said.
“People are surprised when they see that a church has become involved, and in particular a minister is willing to play a flute and has set up a band.”
Hearing hymns like Abide With Me in a blood-and-thunder style is quite an experience, said Rev Orr, and some other bands have even asked for hymns the Flute Band Church has played – perhaps without knowing they are Christian.
“We have some very gifted musicians who can play anything and that gives us a great repertoire,” he said.
As for the future, Rev Orr aspires to see one or two members from every band across Northern Ireland become members of the Flute Band Church.