Champion Chatter
Home » News » Clare musicians to take to the stage at Carnegie Hall

Clare musicians to take to the stage at Carnegie Hall

Champion Chatter

CLARE musicians are seeing their dreams come true this St Patrick’s Day as they perform on one of the world’s most famous stages – Carnegie Hall.

Cratloe siblings Seón, Mateo and Mary-Kate Ruiz as well as Ruby McKenna from Ogonnolloe are playing at the New York venue as part of a performance by the Cross Border Orchestra of Ireland.

Speaking to the Clare Champion ahead of jetting off to New York 21-year-old Seón, who plays alto saxaphone with the orchestra, told us he was “very excited” to be taking to the stage at the prestigious venue. “For us this is a real highlight, to be playing Carnegie Hall of all places in New York. From taking lessons in the Limerick School of Music to progressing to the CBOI and to now be performing internationally in New York, it’s very exciting”.

His brother Mateo is 17 and plays first violin while Mary-Kate is 14 and plays double bass with the orchestra. The three travel all the way from Clare to Dundalk on Sundays by bus and train for rehearsals with the orchestra which was set up as a cross border peace initiative in the 90s.

As well as playing in Carnegie Hall on St Patrick’s Day, the orchestra are also performing on top of the Empire State Building, taking part in a flash mob at Pershing Square near Grand Central Station and meeting and playing alongside other musicians from a Brooklyn school.

All three siblings started their musical career at the Limerick School of Music, where mum Catherine first heard of the CBOI through another parent.

Their proud mother told us, “They have already performed concerts around Ireland in UL, the RDS in Dublin, Belfast and Waterford. They were supposed to go to Carnegie Hall after the first lockdown but that was put on hold until now. They are really looking forward to this, it is probably the biggest stage you can perform on.”

She added, “They put a huge amount of work into this, they have to travel for around 16 Sundays, they get a bus at 6.30am from Bunratty to Dublin, then change to a train to Dundalk and then walk to the orchestra. They get off the train at 9.40pm at night. They really have put the time into it, they have earned this opportunity. They love performing with the orchestra, it really advances their music and they get the opportunity to play in amazing places which is such a great experience for them.”

Also taking part in the New York performance is violinist Ruby McKenna, a student of St Anne’s Community College in Killaloe. She has been involved with the CBOI orchestra for two years, having begun playing violin at six years of age. She also studies piano.

The CBOI is made up of teenagers and young adults from both sides of the Irish border. Established in 1995 following a major ceasefire in Northern Ireland the orchestra was the brainchild of teacher Sharon Treacy Dunne.

Sharon told us that the New York trip had been in the works for a few years but had been postponed due to Covid. However she feels this year is particularly fitting for the performance given the history of the choir.

We were planning this trip for probably five years, we were planning it before Covid, and it was postponed three times. It has been a long time coming and we have been practising very, very hard during all that time, even during lock-down we were on Zoom. We are eagerly awaiting this trip and we’re very excited about it. In a way, it worked out well because it is tied in very nicely with the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and the orchestra was set up as a peace initiative. It is really significant for us to be marking that occasion in Carnegie Hall.”

Recalling how she first came up with the idea for the orchestra she said, “I grew up in Dundalk, about a half a mile from the border, and in 1995 I was teaching music and English. Growing up I was very aware of the Troubles, it was a momentous time in my life. As a teacher you are in a position of responsibility, and I felt a responsibility to do my bit for peace building.”

Since its inception the orchestra has grown to over 100 members, and have performed for the likes of Queen Elizabeth II at Hillsborough Castle and USA President Barack Obama at the White House.

The CBOI also plays a vital role in enhancing music and arts education in Ireland, Northern Ireland and the UK through its Peace Proms programme. Peace Proms is a free music education resource for primary schools which culminates in a large-scale performance for choirs and orchestra at iconic venues. The programme promotes ‘peace through music’ and engages almost 35,000 children from 600 schools giving them the opportunity to sing in a large-scale production with a choir of up to 3,000 and a full symphony youth orchestra. 

Sharon said she never expected the orchestra to grow in the way it did, intending to run it for a few years. However when she saw the good it did and its potential she was determined to continue. “It was extremely difficult to get everybody to work together, even to get parents to allow their children to be in the orchestra. I think that is one of the reasons that made us keep going. When we saw how difficult it was for communities to allow their children to be a part of it, it really showed us there was a huge need for this.”

Sharon has high praise for the Clare musicians and their dedication to the orchestra. “You can be very proud of them,” she said. “We have musicians involved from all over the country and it’s great to have involvement from Clare. The Ruiz family are three very talented musicians who are extremely committed. Catherine for years was driving them up and down to Dundalk, and last year they started coming themselves by bus and train.

Ruby is an excellent violinist who just achieved Grade 7 with distinction in her ABRAM exam. Ruby is an exceptional young person who has just received a seat on the Children’s General Assembly 2023, one of 80 children from across the globe. In her application she spoke about the CBOI and music as an equal opportunity for every child. This is an amazing opportunity for her.”

About Jessica Quinn

Check Also

Officials to visit Ennis over air quality plan request

GOVERNMENT officials are to travel to Ennis to discuss a request that councillors be allowed …