I spent a chilly afternoon on Saturday last in the warm surrounds of the Concert Hall, at the 16th festival of youth orchestras. The event is presented by the Irish Association of Youth Orchestras, and I was delighted to be invited to the first half of the day in my capacity as Music Capital Scheme Manager for Music Network.
Two of the orchestras featured during the 3pm performance were previous recipients of the Music Capital Scheme; Sligo Academy of Music and Coole Music Youth Orchestra. It was pretty amazing to witness first hand the far reaching effects of the scheme, in the hands of young musicians. The Sligo Academy of Music purchased a heap of new instruments with their award, including bassoon, timpani and percussion. How many youth orchestras do you know that have a bassoon player, let alone their own bassoon?! The works they chose to perform in the NCH gave each performer a platform to show off their abilities on the new instruments. It was very clear why they requested funding for percussion as they have some stellar young drummers in the orchestra. One in particular (I don’t know which of the names listed!) was a steady rock behind the very young orchestra in a rendition of “I can’t get no (satisfaction)”. Brilliant!
The whole day was an intense exercise in nostalgia for me. My first ever time in the National Concert Hall was during a previous Festival of Youth Orchestras when I led the Tipperary Millennium Orchestra in our first year together. Very few experiences in my life at that point compared to walking out onto the stage of the NCH with the whole orchestra there waiting to get stuck into our chosen works, and friends and family in the audience. I had a huge lump in my throat when MC Seán Rocks introduced the leader of Fingal County Youth Orch – Aisling Lawson. I swear she was a carbon copy of my young self on the stage! Her solos were sweet and lyrical, and sang out through the overall orchestral sound. I was simultaneously delighted for her appearance on the stage of the NCH and proud of my young self for having been there once upon a time.
After the performance I had a brief chat with Seán about the nature of the event and we both recognised it’s importance for young orchestral players and felt the crazy energy of the day, with so many young people in the hall. We had a brief chat about the piece by Roger Doyle, commissioned by Greystones Youth Orch & Newpark School of Music String Orch. The work required no sheet music for the young players to bury their heads in and as a result they were more connected with the conductor than most youth orchs. Doyle seemed to me to understand the nuances of working with very young musicians and the piece explored their abilities to let go with their instruments and explore the huge variety of sounds they are able to create. Doyle spoke with Seán Rocks after the performance and mentioned that the title of the piece – Deep End – was a tribute to the orchestra’s ability and willingness to “give all to the work and dive right in”. It would be wonderful to see more composers writing for youth orchs and provide them with an inherent understanding of the compositional process and of the availability of new music in orchestral playing in Ireland, before their musical spirits are broken by the limits of the second level music syllabus.