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Summoning a Harp Revival – Meet the Young Musicians

Music Generation 231 min
"If I could describe today in one word it would be ‘legendary'!" – Jamie ‘The King’ Ford Music Generation Cork City & The Kabin Studio

One hundred and eighty-one Music Generation young musicians took to the stage on a sunny March weekend to showcase their take on traditional Irish music to an international audience at St. Patrick’s Festival 2022. These musicians, hailing from counties including Laois, Mayo, Louth and Cork, united to share new music and produce a programme to celebrate Ireland’s national emblem – The Harp. Amongst the performers were harpists, concertina players, fiddle players bodhrán players, and even a dancing troupe of hip-hop/rap artists from North Cork City. In addition to making the trek to the big smoke to celebrate our national festival, these musicians had one thing in common, the drive to get back on stage and, after two challenging years of online rehearsals and virtual lessons.

The opportunity to collaborate with Ireland’s national festival sparked from The Harp Collective’s vision to premier new works from prolific Sligo composer Michael Rooney to a national and international audience. The collective joined by Laois Trad Orchestra, Nós Nua, and Music Generation Cork City’s The Kabin created a meaningful and energetic programme which absolutely wowed the audience at Collins Barracks.

The Harp Collective is a cross-county initiative made up of 52 young musicians aged 10 -17, from Music Generation Mayo, Music Generation Louth and Music Generation Laois. This once-in-a-lifetime performance opportunity had been long-awaited by these young musicians. The harpers had previously secured a performance opportunity to premier this new music at the World Harp Congress, Wales in July 2020. With the performance postponed until July 2022, the young musicians were delighted to finally showcase their efforts and to return to rehearsing together ‘in-person’ after two years of maintaining momentum and keeping the music alive.

We took a moment to meet some of the young harpers who brought this magical moment together! Young musicians Zoe (17) and Grace (15) from Music Generation Louth shared the highs and lows of rehearsals, how they discovered the harp and what music really means to their identity.

Meet Zoe and Grace

Zoe, a member of Nos Nua and The Harp Collective and Grace a member of Senior Strings and The Harp Ensemble both began playing harp and violin at age 7 with Zoe describing her initial harp lessons with Deirdre Ní Bhuachalla as ‘a dream come true’. On her first memory of choosing the harp Zoe said;

"I saw it somewhere when I was six, I can’t remember where, but I’ve always had such a fascination for how it’s played and the look of it. About a month or two before I started, I went to a concert in the National Concert Hall and I saw the harp again and I thought I really wanna play that!"

Grace noted ‘I saw it on TV and I didn’t even know the name of it! I said to my mam - I want to play the thing that you move your fingers along to. Mam didn’t know how to get me into it but she found Deirdre, put me into lessons with her and I’ve been playing it since.’

Zoe and Grace were initially able to access a harp to learn and practice on via Music Generation Louth’s renting process without which they both confirmed they would not have had access to such a valuable instrument. The girls began rehearsing with The Harp Collective and Michael Rooney in 2020 and were delighted to finally return to in-person rehearsals as a big group in early 2022.

Grace noted ‘It’s been stressful to get everything done and get on top of everything for the day we are all together. It’s fun whenever we get there though.’ Zoe touched on the benefits of in-person rehearsal too noting that some of her really good friends were made through these rehearsals and ‘it all sounds so much better in person, we can hear it!’.

These two young musicians are not shy of experience on stage and described some of their favourite experiences at Music Generation performances.

"My favourite concert was the Gloria concert with senior strings with Armagh girls’ choir. It was the lead up rehearsing, travelling to Armagh. It was our first time working with another group. It was singers as well, not musicians, something we haven’t done before. We played in a big cathedral as well." Zoe (17)
"I like playing the Fleadh with the harps. It’s so much fun, you can hear other harpers and musicians play before you play your pieces. It’s just the excitement around it. I was involved in the first Fleadh." Grace (15)

Both musicians emphasised the real sense of connectivity and feeling of togetherness that comes from being on stage with Grace describing ‘You get up, you play, but you’re looking around, making sure everyone knows it! Once it’s done you feel the relief’. Zoe added that

"There’s always excitement as well as nerves. Everybody gets nervous before a performance. There’s always that excitement of going on stage together and performing together."

Zoe and Grace are hopeful to pursue music in college and discussed how music is such an integral part of their identity.

"Music is a pretty big part of my life. I’ve always been surrounded by music because my mam is a musician. I was so thankful to have music during the lockdown. My friends didn’t really have anything or training was closed and they were just sitting at home and didn’t know what to do with themselves and I at least could go off and occupy my time with it. Also for mental health purposes, it was very beneficial!" Zoe (17)
"Especially during lockdown. You’d have nothing to do but sit at the harp or with violin or sing. With mental health it was a really great way to take your mind off things. You can just sit at the harp for an hour and not notice the time go by. It’s a big part of my life." Grace (15)

Introducing Donnchadh Hughes

In conversation with Music Generation, Donnchadh Hughes a 19-year-old multi-instrumentalist, Musician Educator and alumni of Music Generation Louth shares his Music Generation experience and how it felt to perform new music with three ensembles at a global celebration.

Tell us a little about yourself - what do you play, where are you from?

My name is Donnchadh Hughes and I’m a 19 year old multi-instrumentalist from Co. Louth. I play traditional flute and harp, along with classical piano. I started on the tin whistle with my local Comhaltas branch before adding other instruments along the way. I’ve definitely been playing music for as long as I can remember!

How long have you been playing with Music Generation?

I started with Music Generation Louth’s Harp Ensemble when it was formed in 2014, so around 8 years ago! I was very fortunate that Music Generation Louth’s Harp programme began at the same time that I took up the instrument, so I was able to be part of all the harping opportunities the ensemble enjoyed over the years.

How long have you been working with Michael Rooney in anticipation for this performance?

This project with Michael Rooney has been in the works for quite some time, but was stalled considerably because of the pandemic. We started learning the music with Michael over Zoom around September of 2021, before our first gathering of all three harp ensembles at the Harp and Pipes Tionól in Co. Laois in October. From then on we used both in-person and online rehearsals to get to grips with the music and prepare for our performance.

How were the rehearsals for the premier - what was most challenging?

Rehearsals were at times long and tiring, but Michael’s music is so well suited for harp that it was really enjoyable to learn and rehearse. What was most challenging were the logistics and the short time scale to get the project over the line. We only had a few opportunities to bring the whole Harp Collective together to rehearse, and this meant St. Patrick’s Festival was upon us before we even realised it! It was a testament to the high standard of musicianship among the 60-strong ensemble that the project was so successful in the end.

How have you found working with the Music Generation Musician Educators?

The Music Generation Educators were brilliant in their role in teaching us all four movements of Michael’s work. Deirdre, Gráinne and Siobhán were on hand if we had any difficulty with the music and organised practices both as individual harp ensembles and as the larger collective. They really knitted the whole project together and it just wouldn’t have been possible without all their hard work.

Have you performed with Music Generation before?

I have been very lucky to have been involved in many different performances with Music Generation in the past, most predominantly with Music Generation Louth’s Harp Ensemble and Nós Nua – the Louth Youth Folk Orchestra, which was a joint venture between Music Generation Louth and Oriel Centre (Comhaltas).

Over the years we have played on stage at everything from the Fleadh to the Ray D’arcy Show, and even at an International Clay Target Shooting Championships!

Tell us a little bit about Optimism and your project with Music Generation Cork City?

was a project spearheaded by Aibhlín McCrann of Harp Ireland who wanted to reimagine the ancient relationship between the harper and the poet from Gaelic Ireland. Aibhlín got in contact with me the very first day I moved to Cork to start studying at UCC and within a few weeks I teamed up with the Kabin Studio in Cork to produce a harp and rap track for National Harp Day.

It was a completely new collaboration for me so I jumped at the opportunity and I’m so glad I did. I was blown away by the talent amongst the young rap artists in The Kabin. All I had to do was lay down a few recordings on the harp and they worked their magic!

Tell us about your day at Summoning a Harp Revival?

Summoning a Harp Revival
was such an encouraging and memorable day for a number of reasons. One of the things I missed most during the pandemic was group performance for live audiences, so I was definitely spoilt getting to perform on stage with three different ensembles for the St Patrick’s Day Festival!

It was also so encouraging to step back and take stock of how far the harp has come over the last ten years, mostly due to the trojan work of organisations like Music Generation and Harp Ireland. Even in 2014, when I started with the Louth Harp Ensemble, there weren’t half as many harpers as there are now. All three performances were highlights for me, and I particularly enjoyed premiering so much new music – Optimism with the Kabin, The Causeway Suite with Nós Nua, and Cláirseoireacht with Music Generation Harp Collective.

How does performance make you feel?

Performance is something I’m growing to appreciate more and more after the pandemic. I think I’ll take getting up on stage any day over having to record a video in my sitting room 10 times over! Being able to share my music with others and see their reaction is one of the highlights of music-making and I look forward to more of it with Music Generation in the future.

Since starting a Music and Irish degree at UCC, music plays an even bigger role in my life than before and I wouldn’t want it any other way. What I enjoy most about it is the variety it brings to my life. One day I’m practicing a Mozart Concerto on piano and the next day I’m at home in Dundalk teaching the Junior Harp Ensemble or composing music for University assignments. It can get very busy at times but I think that’s a good complaint to have.

How has Music Generation influenced your life?

Music Generation has influenced my life in so many ways, many of which I’ve taken completely for granted. It sounds clichéd but I’ve met so many friends for life through my involvement with various musical projects.

I learned so much about music-making through Music Generation and am fortunate to now be able to pass it on as a Musician Educator for Music Generation Louth. All of this is on top of the incredible performance opportunities I have been a part of thanks to Music Generation.

Do you have any more musical projects or events on the cards this year?

For now, I need to put the head down for my end of year exams, but I’m looking forward to playing lots of music during the summer and finally getting to the World Harp Congress in Wales with The Music Generation Harp Collective!

Summoning a Harp Revival took place at St. Patrick’s Festival Quarter in Collins Barracks at 1pm on Saturday 19th March 2022.

The programme is presented by Rosa Flannery, Siobhán Buckley, Deirdre Ní Bhuachalla, Gráinne Hambly, Kay Webster and William Jackson with special thanks to Michael Rooney, Mohsen Amini, Donnchadh Mac Aodha and Garry McCarthy.

Summoning a Harp Revival is created with the support of Harp Ireland, Oriel Centre, Dundalk Gaol, The Kabin Studio, Music Generation, Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and The Arts Council/ An Comhairle Ealaíon.

The Harp Collective performed 'Cláirseoireacht' to close the show! This 4 movement suite was composed by Michael Rooney who led the 63-strong harp collective on stage for this premiere performance.

Mvt 1 - Teitheamh na nIarlaí (The Flight of the Earls)

Mvt 2 - Planxty John Leslie

Mvt 3 - Suantraí (2 pieces in the one movement).

Mvt 4 - Suairceas (joy)

The Music Generation Harp Collective was established in 2019 and is co-funded by Music Generation/Arts Council Creativity and Collaboration Fund.

'Causeway', a suite of new music from Mohsen Amini and performed by Nós Nua was funded by the Arts Council Young Ensemble Scheme with support by Oriel Centre, Dundalk Gaol and Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.

Music Generation Louth is led by Louth and Meath Education and Training Board and Create Louth.

The young rap collective from Cork City performed 3 original tracks on the day Optimism (ft harper Donnchadh Hughes), Misneach and Ya Boy

The Kabin Studio is a community music space and recording studio supported by Music Generation Cork City, Cork City Council, Cork ETB & GMCBeats Workshops. A non-profit music & creative space for young people that want to write, record, sing, rap, rehearse, act, code, produce, podcast and just make some cool stuff.

Laois Trad Orchestra performed 'Ar an mBealach ar Ais' - A suite of music with 3 Movements (Aonrú, Sult & Dóchas) by Michael Rooney at Summoning a Harp Revival.

Music Generation Laois is led Laois and Offaly Education and Training Board with support from Laois County Council.

Music Generation Mayo Harp Collective performed Rebecca’s Waltz which was composed and arranged by Rebecca McCarthy Kent followed by Eibhlí Gheal Chiúin (Fair Gentle Eily) & Elizabeth Kelly’s Favourites which were arranged by Gráinne Hambly & William Jackson.

Music Generation Mayo is led by Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim Education and Training Board, in partnership with Mayo County Council.

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