Orchestra turns teen energy into creativity

Coole Music is dedicated to 'joyful, creative and supportive music-making'.
Coole Music is dedicated to 'joyful, creative and supportive music-making'.

Lifestyle –  Judy Murphy talks to German-born Katharina Baker who has hit right note with 200 young people in South Galway

When I started the school, it wasn’t just about lessons and exams. I wanted a community of musicians. I’m not interested in exams, I’m interested in people having skills for life and in music.”

The aims of German-born Katharina Baker are being fulfilled in Gort Community School on a Saturday morning where some 40 teenagers from the Coole Music Youth Orchestra are rehearsing for the annual Coole Music Orchestra Festival, which takes place next Saturday, March 11, in Gort Community Centre.

Several members of this orchestra had just finished their Mock Leaving Certs the day before, but not one of them had opted for a lie-in instead of practice.

The teenagers are dressed simply in black, and all wear monogrammed shirts, bearing the Coole Music logo.

The atmosphere is business-like, but it’s fun too – the place is buzzing with teenage energy.

Coole Music has 200 students of all ages and levels – and the 40-strong Youth Orchestra is the most senior of its six orchestras, which accommodate all ages from young children right up to Leaving Cert.

The various orchestras rehearse on different days – for the Youth Orchestra it’s a Saturday.

Members kick off with theory classes at 9am, then the different sections split for rehearsals before regrouping for the final practice of the day under the baton of Katharina. They finish at 1.30pm.

“If we do it properly, we do it properly”, says the conductor, as she encourages each section to take responsibility for its own contribution.

The young musicians sit forward in their chairs, backs straight as they focus on the sheets in front of them.

Katharina conducts, listening to every note, making suggestions and giving praise when it’s deserved. She’s a born leader and it’s clear that all in the Youth Orchestra have huge regard for her.

Katharina, who now lives in Ardrahan, grew up in a church community in Germany which had a strong focus on co-operation. And while her relationship with the church isn’t important anymore, she’s still a big believer in community.

“You can create something so incredible with a group of musicians that nobody can do by themselves. That’s a metaphor for life too.”

Katharina joined her first orchestra in Germany aged 10, and recalls “an arc of progress” which allowed committed musicians to progress to regional and national youth orchestras and string quartets.

That’s the ethos she has brought to Coole Music, which is ‘dedicated to joyful, creative and supportive music-making’, according to its mission statement.

“Some people do take exams but our path of progress is through the orchestras – you can audition for the next orchestra if you are at a certain level,” she explains. “Exams are only important if you have no other way of measuring progress. An exam can benefit and focus a student and we do support it, but it’s not a necessity.”

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.