Archive for November, 2011

The Society for Music Education in Ireland – 1st Annual Conference, UCC

Cork people are a proud and passionate bunch in all departments; sport, music, culture, education, lilting tones and of course they are the funniest people in Ireland – well, so they would lead you to believe. I remember playing a gig in Bunratty around 10 years ago and a group of Corkonians from Mallow were on a company night out, they really missed home, they were lonesome for Cork! Soldiers, no doubt, of the People’s Republic of Cork! In many ways I can understand this overt pride in all things ‘Cork’, the city is warm and friendly with cafes and music venues lining  the side streets of the centre. Cork city centre has not lost its heart, like so many other Irish cities whose business and soul have succumb  to large shopping malls that sprung up in the suburbs,  during those ‘good years’. West County Cork rivals the most beautiful of views around the Irish coastline, but overall Cork seems to offer a blazing welcome to those who visit, in my experience the people go out of their way to help you and are typically, good ‘craic’. Cork city remains vibrant, home to UCC and CIT, both hosting wonderfully diverse and open music programmes. So, where better to have SMEI’s 1st annual conference?

SMEI’s conference organising committee made an excellent early decision in choosing Phil Mullen  as the conference keynote speaker. Phil, a UK based Community Musician and trainer. He has worked for 25 years with vulnerable young people including those with mental health issues and special educational needs and those at risk of offending. He has also worked with homeless people and in prisons and with seniors. For seven years he worked in Northern Ireland promoting cross-cultural understanding through music. Phil also works extensively with schools in the primary and secondary sectors. He has long standing working relationships with Goldsmiths College, London University, The University of Limerick, London Philharmonic Orchestra and Music Leader. He also acts as an advisor to ‘Sing Up‘, the UK national singing programme for primary age children on its inclusion strand “Beyond the Mainstream”. Phil is a former com- missioner and chair of ISME’s Community Music Activity Commission and is a serving board member and is also part of the Membership focus group. For me, in a time that community music in Ireland is in danger of being a passing fad, an extra line to add to a CV without a respect or deeper understanding of the practice, Phil’s presence and centrality to the conference was key.His name drew people far beyond the Music Education circles in Ireland and North America. A keynote full of energy, creativity and respect for the people who we as community musicians work with on a daily basis. It also highlighted how music education in Ireland has moved on since the days of the ‘Deaf Ears’ and ‘MEND’ reports, the willingness to be more inclusive and welcoming reflect how the success community music has perhaps been a predominant voice for change, whether music education realises it or not. Those who sat and really listened to Phil Mullen might find it hard to argue.

Phil Mullen

The conference committee was inundated with papers, workshops and posters hoping to be seen and heard in UCC on the 12th and 13th November 2011, so much so that parallel  sessions were a must in order for all voices to be heard. Presenters such as Randall Allsup, Evelyn Grant and Daithí Kearney highlight the span of interests and passions represented at the conference. Conference Programme  

Overall the gathering felt like a very welcoming and open event and one that should have been in its 8th year, not first. This, I feel is not only testament to the local organising committee, but also the glaring passion and commitment of those attending, performing and presenting, or maybe it was just ‘Cork’!