ICO scheme passes on gift of music to Limerick schools

Alan Owens


Alan Owens

Kathrine Barnecutt with some of the kids taking part in the Irish Chamber Orchestra's Sing Out With Strings programme. Below, six year old Peter Purcell, Southill Junior School, gets in some practice. Pictures: Michael Cowhey
SIX year old Peter Purcell sits in a chair in Galvone National School and talks excitedly about wrestling - the normal topic of conversation for a kid of his age.

SIX year old Peter Purcell sits in a chair in Galvone National School and talks excitedly about wrestling - the normal topic of conversation for a kid of his age.

He says his character’s name would be Clark Kent if he was a wrestler, and smiles to himself at the thought.

Thirty seconds later, after being handed a violin by Kathrine Barnecutt, a viola player and former member of the RTE Concert Orchestra who is Education and Community Outreach Officer on the Irish Chamber Orchestra’s Sing Out With Strings programme, Peter starts plucking at the instrument.

The action comes naturally to the six-year-old, who attends Southill Junior School, as it does to the ten or so budding musicians around him, chatting excitedly in the kitchen of Galvone NS. All are willing and happy participants in the ICO’s community engagement initiative.

Next week, 300 children and the musicians from the world renowned orchestra - based in UL - will gather in the UCH for a concert to celebrate the initiative’s seventh birthday in true style, filled with its typically joyous, uplifting and inspirational performances.

The concert is the culmination of a school year that sees the children at Galvone, Southill Junior and St Mary’s National School offered free vocal and instrumental tuition, after-school choir and orchestra and regular opportunities to perform publicly.

The programme started as a pilot scheme with 60 children in Galvone and now works with over 300 children annually, with Sing Out embedded in the daily life of each school, intertwining music into the culture of each school.

St Mary’s principal Jacinta McNamara says that Sing Out has “given the gift of music and song to our pupils.

“It has exposed them to instruments and musicians up close. It has developed in them the confidence to listen, question and contribute. It has exposed them to a world they would never have access to. The pupils have become confident and at ease with expressing their emotions and feelings through music and song,” she says.

All of the kids - and their parents - gathered in Galvone, agree.

Rebecca Dillon says of her kids - Sophie and Clara and Sonny - that they “actually love it”.

“They don’t complain, they are very happy to do it,” smiles the Southill woman. “I think it is fantastic because after school they stay back three afternoons a week. It is a great chance compared to when I was younger to play the violin, they are so expensive to buy.”

Standing nearby and nodding, Clara explains that she has been playing the violin for fours years and says: “I really enjoy it, I like it. It is way better than everything else and it is fun.”

Mary Fitzpatrick’s three boys, Kian, Patrick and Luke, all take part, with the oldest, Kian, recently gaining a scholarship to Limerick School of Music to play the violin.

“They love staying back to do it. Even on the fine days, they still come,” says Mary, from Southill.

“I think it is absolutely fantastic - it is discipline, they have great fun and when they are doing the concerts it is amazing. It is worth the effort they put in.”

Sixth class student Kian says that the violin was “very confusing” initially, but that he “figured it out” and that he enjoys being on stage to perform.

Pamela Stokes, from O’Malley Park laughs that her house is “very noisy”, as her three kids, Leona, Alanagh and Peter Purcell, all take part in Sing Out.

“They love it, it gives them something to do, something to talk about with each other - they are into different things, but the three of them play violin,” she says of the three siblings.

Leona, in fourth class, says she thought the violin was “very strange” at first. That was five years ago.

“I can play the Troika and the Can Can - I like playing it, it is fun. I like playing on stage, I think that bit is the best,” she says, adding that she enjoys going to school more as a result of Sing Out.

Lucy Dillon, from Carew Park, says her two girls, Jasmine and Lucy, “absolutely love it, they love music, mixing with other children, I think it is absolutely fantastic. It builds their confidence as well.

“And I think they learn to appreciate things more, they have respect for stuff - not just what they learn in school, it is respect for their peers in the orchestra as well. And respect for their belongings and the instruments,” she adds.

Kathrine Barnecutt says that passing on a love for music to the children “comes back at you tenfold”.

“I am learning things all the time from the children,” she smiles.

“I was just watching Peter there and he has two of the best teachers ever at home - his sisters and they are passing on things and he is picking up stuff from them and the support of the parents, bringing them down, getting them to practice and collecting them - all of these things are just tremendous.”

The children, Kathrine - aided by practices set out by Lisa Grossman and Kathleen Turner before her - says, learn much more than just musical abilities.

“They learn all sorts of things about stability and balance and motor skills and communication - being calm in your body and being able to stand still and perform, be calm in front of people and remembering patterns, there are loads of transferable skills that are going on in these lessons,” she says.

“Personal organisation and learning to work with each other and play with each other - but focusing on the instrument takes a lot of concentration,” she adds.

Sing Out was initiated through seed funding by UL’s Department of Lifelong Learning/Strategic Innovation in Education Fund. It continues through support from partners such as Regeneration, the JP McManus Foundation and many more, including the Arts Council.

The plan is to expand the programme to secondary level in the near future.

Kathrine agrees that it has to “evolve as it goes on and no one year is going to be the same as the next”.

“Each year presents new challenges and joys and phenomenally brilliant children that help you along the way and show you what you need to be doing. You are really working together with the children and the parents and the school, all the time,” she adds.

In the meantime, the culmination of this year is the show this Wednesday in the UCH, called The Magic Carpet, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the United Nations.

“We have been learning all about that and being united and working together and just what a transferable skill music is, what a language music is, a global language that we are all part of and just to celebrate that.

“It is going to be great,” says Kathrine.

The ICO’s Sing Out With Strings concert takes place this Wednesday in the UCH at 12pm. See here for more details and to book tickets.