Category Archives: workshop leading

Lending me your ears

Oh, it’s been far too long! Apologies.

I entered the Sรฉan O’Rรญada competition that is run by the Cork Choral Festival. Sadly I didn’t win – a guy called Simon MacHale did, and I’m looking forward to hearing his piece next week at the National Chamber Choir’s festival gig. It was great working to the deadline, although I didn’t finish the piece entirely to my satisfaction. There’s one line that I think needs completely reworking and my choir director told me it was hard, so I must think a bit more about it and draft another version.

The rules were that the piece had to be for SATB with a small amount of divisi permitted. The text also had to be Irish, preferably. I found a great poem by James Joyce (whose poetry I didn’t know at all) called ‘I Hear An Army’ and fell in love with it, despite being warned that permission to use Joyce’s work is hard to get. I actually still haven’t heard back from the copyright holder…fingers crossed. I think it comes out of copyright in six years anyway, by which time I *might* be happy with the piece! My composition professor in university, Nigel Osborne, encouraged me to use comtemporary poets’ work but there is something to be said for not having to worry about copyright. Assuming the publisher/poet is nice, though, it’s still nothing to be put off by, really. You’ll probably have to pay a bit to use the text and write emails and talk to people, but that helps one feel like a proper composer. Which is half the battle.

Two videos to finish. I have to return some instruments that I borrowed for some ‘Introduction to Musical Instruments’ sessions I did the other day for some lovely kids in Chapelizod. I brought along my piano (“…but you said it was a keyboard…” “Yes, yes, you’re right, it *is* a keyboard. It sounds like a piano, though, doesn’t it?” “Sort of…”), guitar, clarinet, drum, shaker, some violins, some chime bars, some lovely bass chime bars and we had a marvellous time playing all those and talking about them and all the other, far more interesting things that they thought of that second. Kids are great ๐Ÿ™‚

First video is of Conor O’Brien (whose band, Villagers, are about to release their debut album) singing on Jools Holland. I think he’s a very very good performer and songwriter. I saw him play a solo set last summer and I was hooked. Enjoy ๐Ÿ™‚

Second video is of the lovely Kristin Chenoweth singing ‘The Girl in 14G’. I was rehearsing this song with Suzanne McDonnell for her recital on Tuesday week. Fun piece and another great performance. Quick gripe: the recital may have to be in the afternoon, not the evening as it has been in previous years. Why? Because of the work-to-rule that the unionised university employees are following. It means that family and friends don’t get to come and the students play to an empty hall. Brilliant.

Anyway, enjoy the song!

singing in harmony

I was determined to start back strongly after the Easter break with the girls choir I conduct.ย  I’ve been experimenting with seating arrangements for the forty or fifty of them that turn up every week(!).ย  For a while there I arranged them in a circle to try and eliminate the talking in the back row phenomenon.ย  It sort of worked and certainly loosened things up a bit; I could walk around the circle and encourage sound production where necessary.

The sixth years have their conformation coming up – quite a big deal, I realised when the teacher produced the book of music they’d be singing.ย  I arranged them in as few rows as possible length-ways in the room where we rehearse and did a good hour’s work with them.ย  Starting with standing up (a huge challenge for some of them!), breathing and warm-ups – explaining why all these things were important – we progressed to the simple canonic Agnus Dei that was in the book.ย  The good thing about this music is that they all pretty much know it already.ย  Of course, that can also be a bad thing…we got into a discussion about what humility is (“…it’s like when you invite someone into your house…”) as I got them to think about how to sing the words.ย  The last note in the phrase is a semibreve on the word ‘us’, so we also had to think about where to place the ‘s’.

In contrast, we also worked on the refrain of the Gloria.ย  This had an optional harmony and, buoyed by our good work to this point, I forged ahead…ย  We sang the melody all together, then I taught them all the harmony line.ย  By alternating tune and harmony a few times we were eventually able to split into the two parts.ย  A great achievement for them – can’t wait for next week!

Children’s music workshop at Rare Diseases Day

I really enjoyed working with the children at the Mansion House today ๐Ÿ™‚ We had quite a range of ages in the group of about a dozen kids and we had great fun making music together. We did some rhythm work, gradually building up from a simple clap to a brand new composition, the exclusive performance of which was witnessed by a group of lucky visitors to the Rare Disease Day event.

We composed a poem together, which we named ‘Spiel’, and which was inspired in part by the lovely room where we were working:


music twenty Lord Mayor nothing big space
tail’s gone Oisin dolly
pingy picture window mirror clapping RHYTHM

James Joyce would’ve been proud! We chanted the words in a specific rhythm, adding percussion instruments, chime bars, and my guitar to the mix.

Afterwards a few children and adults gathered around the very nice Petrof grand piano and did a little bit of playing, watching the hammers move and seeing how the pedal changed the way the dampers acted on the strings.

A delightful group of children and a lovely morning all round ๐Ÿ™‚

Irish Times article

Pictured at Our Lady's Hospital, Crumlin was cellist Grainne Hope, Jonathan Wilson as Tchaikovsky, Amy Jordan and flautist Julie Maisel. Photographs: Jason Clarke Photography

In tune with children’s spirits

Sylvia Thompson

DAVID NOONAN (15) happily plays the chime bars alongside children of all ages who sing and tap their bells to Christmas songs. The teenager in Transition Year in Ard Scoil La Salle in Raheny, Dublin came down from his ward in Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin a little annoyed but it didn’t take long for him to cheer up. “Music is always a distraction for me. The workshop calmed me down. It was very enjoyable,” says Noonan, who plays the guitar, drums and piano when he’s at home. Amy Ferguson’s mother, Veronica, also enjoyed the music workshop led by cellist Grainne Hope and flautist Julie Maisel. Amy, who turns five this week, had a heart transplant two years ago. “We’re just happy that she’s here. We nearly lost her,” says her mother. “She loves singing and dancing and I love music myself.”

One of the striking aspects of this new series of music workshops in children’s hospitals is how the children of different ages are relaxed by the encounter with real classical musical instruments and the musicians. “You never know who will come so it’s important that we reach all children through the stories, the music we play and the songs we sing together,” says Grainne Hope.

Our Lady’s Hospital is one of three Dublin hospitals – the National Children’s Hospital in Tallaght and the Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street are the others – that will host Kids Classics music workshops over the next year.”Seventy per cent of the children who come into hospital have long-term illnesses such as genetic disorders, heart conditions or cancer which require ongoing care,” says Geraldine Regan, director of nursing at Our Lady’s Hospital.

“Because they will spend a significant proportion of their lives in hospital, we have to embrace a holistic approach to the child and look after their personal, social and even spiritual development as well as their physical and medical needs.”Children learn how to interact with the world through play and music is a large element of that,” she adds. “It lifts their spirits at a time when they are faced with many daunting situations such as operations, tests, X-rays and other procedures.”

The Kids Classics series of workshops will be held once a month in each hospital from now until December 2009.

Each workshop will explore a different composer. The workshop The Irish Times witnessed was called Tchaikovsky’s Christmas Party and during it Tchaikovsky (Jonathan Wilson) read the story of the Nutcracker while Maisel and Hope performed excerpts from it. “Later, we will have Beethoven’s Bad Hair Day and a day in the life of Mozart,” explains Hope. The series is funded by the Learn and Explore Department at the National Concert Hall (NCH). “Our aim is to bring music to every corner of Ireland so we would like to develop this programme further,” explains Katie Wink, the Learn and Explore manager at the NCH.Other outreach programmes run by the NCH include Up the Tempo in which musicians run composition workshops in schools. The National Chamber Choir also recently held music and singing workshops in nursing homes and the Coolmine Therapeutic Community.

The musicians themselves also enjoy the contact with people outside of traditional performance venues. “Playing music is such a human interaction and something very special happens in places like this,” says Jonathan Wilson who played guitar and doubled as Tchaikovsky for the workshop. “I was particularly struck by one girl in the group who was blind and yet had the best rhythm of all the children when we played and sang together,” he adds. According to Maisel, “There are plenty of studies that emphasise the benefit of music and then, we never know what impact the workshops might have. Some of the children might be encouraged to learn to play a musical instrument after participating.”

One recent study struck a chord for Regan. “Dr Dan Penny from the Royal Melbourne Children’s Hospital spoke at our foundation day last month,” she explains. “And, he quoted a study of children with cardiac conditions whose social development was delayed due to the lack of play in their lives.” She continues, “Children in hospitals see the grim side of life. They are very good at coping in difficult situations but it is studies like this one that emphasise how important it is for us to give them access to opportunities to play and learn,” she says.

“In this environment of containing costs, you have to look at new ways of doing things and this partnership with the National Concert Hall allows us to look at the social development of children in a cost-effective way,” she adds.