Tuesday 15 October 2019

Music Generation: U2's dream of affordable music education for all young people in Ireland close to realisation

U2's dream of affordable music education for every young person in Ireland is close to realisation, writes Katherine Donnelly

Participants in the Music Generation Sligo Gala Concert 2018
Participants in the Music Generation Sligo Gala Concert 2018
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

They call it the GAA of the music world. It hasn't quite reached every county, town or suburb yet, but Music Generation - the first publicly supported system of local music education services in Ireland - has become a national phenomenon.

It offers affordable, vocal and instrumental tuition - known as performance music education - for children and young people up to 18 years of age. Tuition is by professional musicians

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It caters for all genres, from classical to trad, to hip-hop, to jazz, and many more, as well as all instrumental and vocal styles, with each community tailoring its range of offerings in response to local needs and contexts.

It was a long time coming. Dr Patricia Flynn of Dublin City University (DCU), who has conducted research on the powerful positive impact of the initiative, traces the wait back to 1930, when the Vocational Education Act promised tuition on instruments together with the formation of orchestras and choirs.

The title of Dr Flynn's 2016 research report, 'Possible Selves in Music', speaks to an underlying aspiration of the programme -that when young people connect with music, they begin to imagine their own possible future self, which, in turn, leads to a transformation in their personal development.

Rosaleen Molloy, National Director of Music Generation, says it is every child and young person's right to have the chance to participate as a musical citizen, and points to spin-offs such as social connectivity and friendships.

Dr Flynn draws the analogy with the GAA and how Music Generation can create a context for more young people to engage in music, to pursue a talent, to play together, to set up bands and, generally, to facilitate music becoming part of the fabric of their lives.

It was thanks to a €5m donation from U2 and another €2m from the Ireland Funds that Music Generation got up and running in 2010, in 12 parts of the country.

Last year, in those 12 areas alone, it facilitated 42,500 engagements by children and young people in music tuition and provided 8,300 musical instruments for use by participants, 350 employment opportunities, mainly for musicians, 56,200 tuition hours in 800 centres and 150 different programmes across all genres of music.

A second phase in 2017 saw it extended into 20 areas.

The recently-announced third phase brings Kerry, Kildare, Longford, Meath and Tipperary into the Music Generation fold; each county will now receive funding to devise and implement their local programme, beginning with the recruitment of a development officer.

That leaves four areas still to be covered - Fingal, Dublin City, Cork county and Limerick county, with a commitment to do so by 2022.

Music Generation is a public-private partnership, both in terms of its main funding streams and through its area collaborations, known as Local Music Education Partnerships, which involve private music providers and education and training boards (ETBs) and local authorities in its delivery.

While ongoing philanthropic funding is key, Music Generation is now also factored into the Department of Education's annual budget and is an integral part of the Government's Creative Ireland initiative, which included the promise of full roll-out by 2022. This year, projects are receiving about €3.5m from the Department of Education.

Rosaleen Molloy says the Government's commitment under Creative Ireland was hugely significant and would ensure long-term sustainability.

Ciaran Somers is a music teacher in Borris Vocational School (VS), Co Carlow, and has been involved in Music Generation Carlow since its development stages.

As part of the Carlow programme, the school is the location for a weekly Music Generation Hub on Thursday nights.

The hub is open to all young people and, according to Somers, "it provides music tuition and performance music tuition in small groups and for individuals across number of genres".

In an area with a rich history in traditional music, his background as a trad musician is a great asset to his pupils, both in Borris VS and Music Generation. But he gives an example of how Music Generation has extended the local repertoire by allowing the school to call on the services of contemporary composer Dr Linda Buckley of Trinity College, Dublin. It is a collaboration that has made Borris VS a force to be reckoned with in the choral world.

While the aim of Music Generation is to nurture a connection with music for life generally, there is anecdotal evidence from around the country of how it is inspiring young people to pursue formal study of the subject

In his school role, Somers has noticed how access to it has raised the confidence and quality of musicianship of pupils coming into first year, and also sees an uptake in interest in music as a subject. "It is because they were involved in Music Generation," he says.

In his Leaving Cert class, he says there are students considering the study of music at third level and going on to work in Music Generation because of the exposure to career musicians they have met through the programme. "They are looking at them as role models."

Irish Independent

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