Archive for the ‘magical’ Category

When we have babies, we don’t disappear!

On a serious note, when community musicians begin a family it does not mean we stop being community musicians! in fact this is when we need to be kept in the loop more. Thank you!!!


Taken last year at the Hub’s Band Incubation performance. Only 8 weeks old here, young Tiernan is now walking and chatting 12 months on…JOY!

Categories: magical, motherhood

Harry Bird and co at the Music Hub

As a facilitator it is always a joy to attend a workshop and not have to lead, especially when the leader is the frontman for one of  my favourite bands – Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies. We first heard Harry play at the Flat Lakes Festival in Monaghan 2 years ago, I went for a dander to check out other sounds and was halted in my tracks by that beautiful music. Since then we have seen the lads a handful of times, and each time it has been a real treat. On that first evening of hearing the lads play I bought 5 CDs for people  I thought might enjoy their style, one of whom is my good friend and excellent colleague, James Blake at the Learning Hub, Limerick. He seemed to enjoy the music as much as I did and set about getting them to the Hub and true to his word he did so, just yesterday.


Harry and Christophe leading the group in a songwriting workshop.

What a magical afternoon we all had! A very mixed bag of people attended, including experienced community musicians, young musicians, school goers and young songwriters. Harry, Christophe and and Jamie have a warm and generous presence, treating everyone with the same respect and attention. I learned so much in terms of approach and attitude, what a gift to receive on the afternoon I officially began my maternity leave. We wrote a song together and everyone contributed – Harry was a natural leader, no amount of training, pedagogical or philosophical ‘insight’ can afford somebody such skill. You either have it, or you don’t! It is clear that lovely Harry has it in spades.

Thanks to the Hub for a wonderful afternoon.

The Haiku and artistic composition

A dear friend and wonderful community musician, Aisling O’Gorman, moved to Dublin to run The Ark’s music programme last September. In leaving she asked me if I would have the time to take on some of her groups, in reality I didn’t but I had worked with one of the groups in the past and wanted to at least do my best to offer some kind of transitional period. Aisling had worked with the Parkinson’s Society ‘Voice Club’ for 3 years and the group was very fond of her, they had developed a large repertoire and performed each year for family and friends at their annual Christmas ‘do’.

So, I gladly took on the big boots of Miss O’Gorman and went about trying to find a place and time that would suit the majority of members and I. In the end it was decided that the Learning Hub each Tuesday morning would serve well for all involved. A beautiful, state of the art, accessible recording studio with a large practice room was offered to the club free of charge. Wonderful, and we began.

Although little research has been done regarding the clear cut benefits of music, specifically singing and Parkinson’s it is clear to me that these sessions have been of and will continue to be of benefit to those involved. Not just in terms of musical development and social interaction but also in terms of the individuals overall health.

Engaging in the sessions helps with; posture, maintaining muscle strength in the diaphragm, speech fluency (because it works the mouth muscles), preventing drooling, maintaining swallow and by engaging in something they enjoy.(Dunne, 2011)

30 minutes are dedicated to vocal warm-ups helping to strengthen muscles in the diaphragm etc. Exercises include musical statues, breath holding and vocalizing,  dedicated facial warming, scales, rounds amongst other tricks I have accumulated over the years. Songs are then shared, I will usually teach a song and ask members to do the same. For some members of the group music had been a big part of their lives ‘pre-Parkinson’s’ and this is a safe space for them to play and sing, I personally cherish this time and I’d imagine, although I have not asked, the said members do too. This said, there are members who have just come to music through the Society and clearly do not share the same grá for this part of the session. With this in mind I decided to cut back the time we spend on this ‘show and tell’ period and concentrate on composition. Composition with such a group is very challenging, grown men and women who come together once a week due to a shared disease does not necessarily mean that they have similar interests beyond music. So, I decided to use Haikus as a starting point for group lyric writing and thereafter individuals to think about when they went home for the week. Lee Higgins used Japanese sonnet composition when he taught me at the University of Limerick and has since published a book of events and workshops with Patricia Sheehan Campbell. ‘The Badge of Identity’ uses the Haiku in part, enabling the artist to work within structures and in many ways forcing them to think and compose within attainable boundaries.  Free To Be Musical 

The Haiku is a Japanese sonnet that follows a 5,7,5 syllable format. Over the years I have used the sonnet as a lyrical starting point  where groups are not gelling well, it has proved successul to date. Indeed my favourite and most indulgent event is the aforementioned ‘Badge of Identity’ by Lee Higgins, it allows for free expression if a non-judgmental and free space. I would only use this event when working with a group who has known one-another for sometime through the musical project in question. 

At first the change in our typical workshop format was met with some resistance and indeed some fear. Sensing this resistance I parked the notion of dedicating the full session to Haiku led composition and returned to our usual routine but I did invite people to compose their own Haiku and share it with the group the following week or anytime in the future. To my delight and surprise one gentleman, a piano player, returned a fortnight later with 3 Haikus written in the Irish language each sonnet with a character and a reference to the weather. The group applauded and celebrated the efforts of their colleague, as did I. We spent the rest of the session putting the words to music in range that suits all members.  Since then the composition has taken on the form of macaronic rhyme with another member offering an interpretation of the piece in the English language. The piece is beginning to come to life in the different shapes and forms that have emerged and come together seamlessly. The month of January will be set aside to work on the piece and record it, the Learning Hub as ever has offered support in the shape of recording time and production, instrumentalists, time and space. What a lovely way to begin 2012.

The Learning Hub opens in ‘pop up’ style: You are what you learn.

Set in Kileely, Limerick City looking out onto the River Shannon, lovely on the greyest of days but glorious when the sun shines, and so it did. It is hard to believe that just 5 short years ago director Jennifer Moroney Ward rattled around St.Martin’s House on her own with a hope of creating the team that she did, the results speak for themselves and this brief reflection does not attempt to represent the depth of hard work, educational sharing, artistic creativity and overall highly positive spirit that weave the tapestry and essence of the Learning Hub. You Are What You Learn. In my opinion, The Hub is, potentially Limerick’s answer to Dublin’s ‘The Ark’ or Newcastle’s ‘Sage’ programmes.

3 years ago I stumbled upon team members from the Learning Hub at a stuffy, routine presentation of work to satisfy funders. Not anticipating anything ‘new’ from the same faces and slides, I brought a good book with me and tucked myself away at the back, like the unruly student that I always longed to be. There seemed to be a few new faces, SIF 2. I was instantly taken by the smiles and enthusiasm of the Hub presenters, distracting me from the previously mentioned book. I wanted to talk to them and hopefully collaborate somehow, and so the link began. Students from the BA Irish Music and Dance, UL spent two, five week sessions in the Hub working with young people from the area through music and dance, the benefits to the BA students far out weighing those of the youngsters involved, we had to rethink the relationship. It was unfair on the young people involved in terms of pedagogical friendships to tease them with the presence of the BA students for 2 weeks just to be introduced to new faces the following week. Thereafter, I kept in touch with the Hub through MA and BA long term placements, this engagement meant greater impact for all involved, a 50/50 deal, as it should be.

In January 2011 The Hub in association with The Limerick School of Music opened it’s doors to children aged between 8-15 from the area for a music programme, a community music programme. The hours were advertised as such and the interview panel asked all kinds of questions about community music, I was shocked! The VEC were quizzing me about my community music experience when only 8 years previously they were asking to clarify, with the aid of a powerpoint presentation, as to what community music was. (Dear Community Music Ireland – Please do not become a cool and new thing , do your best now, stay true and be strong, don’t forget who you are, don’t sell out). Luckily I was included along with the very talented James Blake to run the Hub’s music programme, 3 evenings a week. Happy days, with my contract in UL recently finished this was perfect timing and a big challenge to get back into the work that I am so fond of.

On the evening that families were due to come to The Hub to sign up for the programme, the elements were against us. Hail, some snow, wind and of course that obligatory ‘Angela’s Ashes’ type rain that is a constant in Limerick(that is a joke, just in case any Limerick advocates are googling, ‘Limerick, rain’ to try and start a row. A very wet place though, it has to be said). The damp and cold conditions did not seem to deter families from making their way to Kileely, 70 kids signed up and 45 performed at the opening last month. They performed original and covered materials and even sang a layered and harmonized song with the steady guiding hand of James all the way. The results were wonderful, high praise form dignitaries, families and friends on the day and since. One song called ‘Recession Shoes’ has proved popular with all age groups, all songs will be recorded in the hub’s new studio this month.

This music programme seems to have lit something in the children, young people and families that we have worked with since January, it has created a hunger to learn more about music and to continue to perform. The positive and creative attitude of those who run The Hub is infectious and this permeates through each session we share. Requests of formal instrumental lessons from so many of the children involved have been heart-warming.I suppose they see the teenagers in the group who are taking instrumental lessons and they want to be like the older dudes and dudettes, but also on the day of the opening one young lady played a pink, daisy shaped electric guitar to the Undertones’ ‘My Perfect Cousin’. It doesn’t get much more inspirational then that!

So, we hope the music programme will continue and that those who have engaged with the initial part of the course will continue and receive the long awaited instrumental lessons. The performance,technology and compositional workshops will continue for all but a new group of children will be invited to avail of what has been and will continue to be a terrific project. I’m going say it, skip on now if you must – ‘I would have loved something like this when I was their age’. Please feel free to judge me, but know that I have never said this to any children or young people that I have worked with in my role as a community musician.

The Hub is the most professional and involved place I have worked as a community musician. They value your opinion and if you work hard and be apart of their creative energy, you will receive an ongoing, unconditional welcome. All this said, it is hard work; high energy, reflective, vocational, ‘for the kids’, many hours beyond your contract hard work. The trick is, I found, to know when to say ‘no’, to know when you are, as a leader, being stretched and indeed to recognise when others are being stretched too. All too often this is difficult to do, but ultimately the project suffers if a balance between input and output is not struck. There is a very thin line between high energy, all consuming work and cynicism.   When that tired, sensitive cynic comes to work, no matter how nice the workplace is – Kids, beware!

The Ark, The Ark, The Magical Ark!

The Ark seeks Music programmer!

The Ark introduces children to the joy, wonder and creativity of the arts, and plays a vital role in raising the standard of culture for children. Here, in a unique building designed specifically for them, children aged two to 12 explore everything from theatre, music and literature to painting, film, dance and more. They discover what it means to be an artist, from respected professional artists. There is no better way to feed hungry young imaginations, or to inspire a lifelong journey through culture.’

The Ark is a place of dreams; child-centred, warm, welcoming, low tables and loos, cubby holes, bright colours and all of this in Dublin City centre. Over the last 16 years The Ark has operated as a cultural centre designed specifically for children, the first of its kind in Europe. I remember wandering in as a new graduate, around 21 at the time, for a look. I left feeling that I had invaded the privacy of the children who roam the corridors, play, create and perform – I had been to the artist’s home without invitation, all future visits were accompanied by a child, just for good measure. The Ark has always intrigued me for many reasons, the child-centred ethos creating a deep sense of ownership for the children who visit. Perhaps this is why I applied for the post of Music Programmer last month even though I am very happy in the projects that I am involved in at the moment. Other posts like this have come up around the country and I was not tempted, but again there is something about The Ark that draws me in.

I am a community musician, being a community musician is the centre of my working life. The work that I am engaged with at the moment at the Learning Hub and Corpus Christi N.S. in particular bring new and creative challenges both artistically and facilitatory wise for me and my lovely colleagues. My waltz with a full-time academic position confirmed this role for me but it also answered a call that I had been making for years without reply, and opened doors to communities of critical discussion, which I relish.  The balancing act that Lee Higgins often refers to for community musicians, straddling the ʻgreat divideʼ between the complexities of community work and research is most challenging. So, when this post came up at The Ark it seemed to me that this was my chance to facilitate and reflect all in one. My interpretation of the advertised post was and remains through a community music/facilitation/music education/community arts sphere more so than that of an event management lens, this will no doubt go against me because the venue has to facilitate high quality performances and workshops for children, primarily. It is my hope that whoever is successful in getting this magical post will consider the need for bringing music and the arts into the lives of the children who The Ark holds so dear to it’s heart, do so in a meaningful way. Not ‘just for’ one-off performances and workshops, which have their place, a very important place but,dare I say it, in the long run are more about the artistic adult then the artistic child?

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