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New music project is striking the right note

Judy Murphy

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Lifestyle – Judy Murphy meets the people behind a music scheme in which students compose and perform

From Carna to Kinvara, from New Inn to Athenry, 200 young people from music schools and youth orchestras all over Galway are getting a unique opportunity to learn first-hand about what’s involved in composing classical and traditional music in an innovative eight-month project which will come to fruition in the city in May.

The students have been working with Scottish musician and composer James Ross, writing and rehearsing original pieces, which they will perform at a gala concert in Seapoint on May 10.

This scheme is the brainchild of the Galway Music Education Partnership, which was set up in 2011, involving all the main music schools in the county, led by the Galway Roscommon Education and Training Board (GRETB – formerly the VEC).

Last year they appointed James Ross as Composer in Residence for Galway, teaching young people what’s involved in the process of musical composition from the first notes to the final performance.

James’s diverse musical background makes him ideal for this job. He grew up in Wick in the Scotland Highlands and the first instrument he played was the piano accordion. Later he studied classical music, specialising in piano, and went on to train in music school in Glasgow.

On a Thursday evening in Athenry, James is bounding with energy as he takes to the piano, where he is conducting members of Athenry Youth Orchestra  in conjunction with their leader, Katharine Mannion. The youngsters, from seven up, are playing fiddles, violas, cellos, bass and wind instruments, and following instructions with ease as they rehearse the piece that they have composed with James for the Seapoint concert.

James has a history of working with young people and on community music projects in Scotland and Australia.  Last year he composed the soundtrack for Theatre Workshop Scotland’s film, The Happy Lands – a BBC film developed and created with members of the Fife mining community

He was in Melbourne last July, working with young people from Scotland and Australia when he saw the ad for the Galway position.

The job description appealed to him and he was aware of the strong, shared musical legacy between Scotland and Ireland, as he has an MA from the World Music Centre in the University of Limerick. The fact that his musician girlfriend is from Cork was an added draw, he says with a laugh.

Out of nine applicants, the Music Education Partnership shortlisted three for interview. According to Louise Ryan, GRETB Youth Officer, who has nurtured this project from the start, James was outstanding.

“We asked him how he’d feel about working with different groups of young people whom he had never met, both composing and rehearsing. He was so enthusiastic and had so many ideas. And he had done projects with young people previously,” she explains.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

Connacht Tribune

Galway poet’s new chapter as debut novel hits the shops

Judy Murphy

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Elaine Feeney....debut novel.

“I hated school so much I thought if I could be a teacher, I could make it a bit better,” says novelist and poet Elaine Feeney about her day-job as an English and History teacher at St Jarlath’s College in Tuam.

The Athenry woman certainly has made it livelier and more relevant. Her students who were studying Hamlet for this year’s Leaving Cert departed from the text to give the troubled prince psychotherapy sessions, with different boys taking on the roles of Hamlet and the therapist as they explored the plot. Elaine laughs as she recalls how they got totally caught up in it. There’s always an entry point to good writing, she says, adding that she loves Shakespeare – in part because of the soap opera element to his drama.

“You can compare it to the latest episode of EastEnders”.

The Handmaid’s Tale by contemporary Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood is also on the curriculum. Her novel might seem more relevant to the boys, especially given its global success since being adapted for television. When Elaine learned that Atwood would be visiting Galway in early March this year for a Galway 2020 event, she asked the organisers if it would be possible for the class to meet her and discuss her work. That’s what happened and 25 young men in their school blazers spent three hours discussing the novel with Atwood.

Elaine lectures in Creative Writing at NUIG and has been involved in the university’s project archiving the stories of the survivors of Tuam’s Mother and Baby home. So, watching her students engage with a woman whose books deal with the misuse of power and oppression of women was a great moment.

It’s an example of how far she’ll go to give the students the best preparation for exams and for life. Elaine has a great relationship with them, something she’ll miss next year as she takes a career break to promote her own novel, As You Were, published by UK company Harvill Secker.

Read the full interview with Elaine Feeney in this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Live album looks after those who make it real

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Mick Flannery….album for the crew.

Anyone who has seen Mick Flannery play live will know that the Corkman doesn’t embrace the spotlight with both arms. There is a sincerity to what he does – his reluctance to operate as any sort of frontman is only outweighed by passion for his craft.

His shows are intimate and they’re backed up by a studio-quality sound and a genuine engagement between artist and audience. It is what happens when someone who doesn’t like talking about themselves ends up pouring their heart out on stage.

It is fitting, then, that Mick’s new album revolves around the people around him. All of the proceeds for Alive – Cork Opera House 2019, the singer-songwriter’s first live LP, will be shared among members of his band and crew who have lost work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s a major gesture from a modest talent and Mick is quick to point out that the album reflects just how much he owes to those that share his stage.

“I’m glad that it’s there as a tribute to them,” he says of the album. “I think Alan Comerford had a great gig that night on electric guitar with the solos that he played. Matthew Berrill was on the brass and he did some lovely stuff.

“There’s a few of the lads in the band who have music as their sole income. It’s not always easy to do that. It’s constantly booking gigs in bars around the place and that but it’s what they do and it’s what they have a passion for. They’ve worked hard to do what they love for a living and now these circumstances have taken that away.

“I have a kind of area to pivot – I can start writing songs and preparing albums whereas for the crew, without the live gigs their skillset is not being used at all… Lighting engineers and sound engineers, riggers, people that have built up PA companies over the years and small venues as well.”

For full interview, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Arts Festival is still giving it socks!

Judy Murphy

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Galway International Arts Festival Chief Executive John Crumlish and Artistic Director Paul Fahy, sporting their Irish Socksciety GIAF socks outside the Festival Gallery at William Street as details were announced of the Festival’s Autumn Edition. Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

“This is not a July festival as people know it, moved forward. It’s a different creature” says Artistic Director of Galway Arts Festival Paul Fahy about the organisation’s ‘Autumn Edition’ which is being held in reality and virtually in September and October following the cancellation of the July 2020 Festival due to Covid-19.

The aim is to bring live audiences into performances in a safe way, “to re-ignite that spark between live art and audience”, while also using digital platforms to reach those who might not be able to attend live events due to Covid-19.

He’s understandably excited about Mirror Pavilion, a major installation by artist John Gerrard commissioned by the Festival for Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture.

It will launch in Galway City’s Claddagh Quay on September 3, and will also be in Derrigimlagh Bog in North Connemara for October.

Gerrard is known for spectacular, large scale outdoor works such as Western Flag in California’s Coachella Desert and this work will be one of the largest outdoor installations ever in Ireland.

It will consist of three walls and a roof made of reflective glass while the fourth wall is an LED screen.

Two new artworks will be presented in the Pavilion; Corn Work at Claddagh Quay and Leaf Work at Derrigimlagh.

These connect with their specific setting, with Corn Work reflecting the power of the River Corrib and the many mills and industries it powered in bygone days.

Leaf Work, in the vast spaces of Derrigimlagh is a lament for the environmental damage that’s been caused to the world in the past century.

See full line-up and story in this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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