All about the music for Tralee's Aidan

In this week's interview, Fergus Dennehy talks to Aidan O'Carroll from the Kerry School of Music about growing up in a musical family, asking to learn to play the piano at age five, the important role that he feels that music can play in society and how the school has been busy celebrating its 35 year anniversary this year

Aidan O' Carroll
Aidan O' Carroll
Aidan O'Carroll

As the Kerry School of Music in Tralee begins to celebrate its 35th anniversary this year, we think it is safe to take the words of its founder and current Director, Aidan O' Carroll, to heart when he says that the School has become "an institution right in the centre of the county" and one that he says helped to pave the way for what he is calling the burgeoning and hugely positive music scene currently in Kerry.

A man who is in his own words, a Tralee native "hook, line and sinker", Aidan has been heavily involved in music since that brave moment as a five year old child when he cheekily told his mother that he could play the piano as well as his older brother, James.

"Everyone else in the family seemed to be doing it [music] and I thought that I could be every bit as good as them; I was just sitting in the room, being the quiet child that I was and I remember just sitting up and telling my mother that I could play on the piano the same piece that my brother, James, was playing and she said 'okay right, come on up so' and even to this day, I have no idea what I did or played but I must have passed her test it seems!," Aidan laughed, talking to The Kerryman last week.

It was only natural that Aidan found himself thrust into the musical world however, I mean, growing up in a house with nine other siblings, five of whom are still currently employed professionally in music and with a mother who worked professionally as a piano teacher and whom also enjoyed different extended stints as the organist of the Holy Cross Dominican Church, it was always going to be difficult to avoid the temptations.

"It was very much a bonding item for us, being involved in this shared creative passion; I don't know if there was talent in me from the early ages, I'd put it more down to there being an interest there because of the musical surroundings in which I lived; I was in the middle of the house so all of the older siblings would have been making music from a very early age, so it was probably the most natural thing in the world for me then to pick it up through osmosis, I guess!" he laughed.

Kerry of course has always had a fantastic tradition of music here in the county, but Aidan admits though that this wasn't always the case when he was growing up.

"When I was growing up, there certainly wasn't a music scene in Tralee, I mean the choice was between learning the piano and learning nothing! I was lucky enough that my mother was a piano teacher professionally but for anyone else, they would have had to go to the local convent, music teachers were quite a rare breed in the town back then."

"It was a completely different world to the world that we live in now, kids today have access to all this social media and all this technology and because of this, they can't escape the influence of music in their lives, which is a very good thing and positive influence for someone like me for who runs a music school!" he says.

"The opportunities that the children have nowadays though, and not to blow my own trumpet, but thanks to organisations like our Kerry School of Music and schools around the county, a person can get very high quality and affordable training in their choice of musical instrument."

The Kerry of Music, which is located at the Old Custom House on High Street in Tralee (near the Garda Station) was set up by Aidan way back in 1981 for the sole purpose of helping to 'make music happen' in the Kerry Region; but by a twist of fate and a chance visit by Aidan back home to Kerry, the School and it's profound influence on the town and surrouding areas might never even have existed at all.

"I founded the school almost by accident would you believe, I actually didn't even intend to live in Kerry at all; my planned trajectory was very much towards living in France or Germany for further PhD study and I had options of going to Yale or elsewhere but as fate would have it, I came home for about a month or two before heading off and something just clicked in my brain that changed everything."

"People obviously knew that I was home and they all just suddenly started ringing me asking to know where their sons or daughters could learn to play an instrument, there's always one memorable call that I'll remember where a lady called me up asking where her son could learn the trombone of all things."

"I mean I had no idea where to send her and maybe I was a bit flippant with her but she was asking me to explain why I couldn't tell her and the rest of them where they could go - this got me thinking 'right, there's obviously some sort of deficit going on here and maybe there's a job to be done' and really, this was the beginning of things happening."

The saying goes that 'the rest is history' and for Aidan and his dream of literally making 'music happen' in Kerry, history has certainly been very kind to him and his team of dedicated teachers and pupils in that famous old building in Tralee.

"35 years later, we're an institution, we're a registered charity and I think that people are looking at the School of Music as they would a first, second or third level education - such is the high standard of expectations and standards that we have built up for ourselves over the years."

These high standards mean that there is a certain expectation placed on the students of the achool and with this mind, Aidan feels that it's not enough to come to the school, learn your instrument and play the music in your room to yourself though, he feels that the true value and measure of a musician comes from taking your music out into the world and performing, something that he instills highly into his students.

"Music has to have a place in society, you have to deploy your music and your newfound confidence out into the world - otherwise, I mean what good is it? Now, I understand that not everyone is a born performer but we do encourage as many people as possible to take their skills into our concerts and outside the school - we do concerts in the community, we do in-school presentations and so much more.

Celebrations for Aidan and the School of Music that he helped build have been in full swing since late last year when the school staged its production of the Phantom of The Opera and more recently, it's critically acclaimed staging of Evita, two productions that Aidan admits that he is immensely proud of.

35 years on from his 'accidental' founding of the school and many more years on since he cheekily played those first few notes on the piano while perched next to his mothers lap, it's certainly been quite the musical journey for Tralee's Aidan O' Carroll and judging by the energy levels and passion eminating strongly from his voice, it's clear that Aidan has only begun to get started - he's not only now a fixture of the school, Aidan himself has now himself become an institution and a symbol of music here in Tralee and beyond.