MUSIC and its impact on mental health and well-being are the twin elements that concertina player, composer and producer Pádraig Rynne has been reflecting a lot on lately.
As Development Officer with Music Generation Clare, his ‘day job’ takes him to educational settings the length and breadth of the county – mainly virtually – and he has seen first-hand the benefits for children and teens of creating, composing and performing.
Music Generation is a national partnership programme whose mission is to create inspiring experiences for children and young people through music. In a county like Clare, where songs and tunes are part of the fabric of daily life, the organisation has been going from strength-to-strength over the last seven years. The pandemic has prompted it to move many of its core activities online, and, with other young peoples’ activities curtailed, it has been a creative lifeline for many.
“When the lockdown hit last March, we were lucky to have so much access to technology as part of our work,” said Pádraig. We could continue our programmes through Zoom, Skype, Teams and other platforms and we were able to see out the term. Now we’re back delivering many of our programmes in-person and online and we’re three weeks into the new term, which is probably our busiest point.”
To say that Pádraig and the team are busy would be something of an understatement. Music Generation Clare provides inclusive and diverse activities across the county for children from 0 to 18. “We get to every setting from creches to secondary schools and work in other setting like Clare Youth Service in Ennis and Shannon,” he outlined. “Our aim is quite broad in that we’re supporting children to make and learn music in an atmosphere of creativity and diversity. So, we’re involved in writing, singing, choirs, orchestras and all kinds of groups and bands.”
Under the guidance of Music Generation Clare, a number of notable developments have taken place. These include the creation of a concertina orchestra, which has drawn members from Galway to Kerry.
“It shouldn’t work, but it does,” Pádraig remarked, “because we work on traditional melodies and add harmonies and a base element. We commissioned Dr Tim Collins, one of the most popular concertina tutors in Clare, and will record a suite that he has created for us. We have five baritone concertinas in the orchestra which adds an extra dimension to the sound. We’ll be launch that recording at next year’s Consairtín festival.”
A harp ensemble has also been created to make this beautiful, but expensive instrument available to those who might otherwise not get an opportunity to play it. “We have purchased a number of high-quality instruments and these can be accessed by our learners.”
Programmes include ‘Kids Ceol’, which is currently giving children in 16 Clare national schools a much-needed means of expressing themselves and coping with challenging times.
“The mental health and well-being of kids is something that is so important at the moment,” Pádraig said. “I see it with my own family where the normal sports and activities have wound down. So, in the primary schools, we’re using lots of tools that help kids to cope with anxiety, like breathing through music. Everyone involved will help create a song and everyone participates in performing it, in some way. We record the work so that the school can share it with parents and we’ll showcase it on social media.
“At the moment, we’re doing a lot of that digitally and calling it ‘Kids Ceol TV’. The feedback is that kids are interacting brilliantly with each other. It’s a pity not to be able to be with them in the classroom, but it’s great to get such a strong response from the virtual work.”
Secondary schools are also involved, taking part in the ‘Teens Ceol’ initiative which is rolling out at six venues. “It has well-being, music and technology elements and that’s proving very popular. It’s tailored to the school and the focus can be a performance or a recording. Delivery is mostly in person now, in line with the Covid-19 guidelines.”
Music Generation Clare operates under the auspices of the Limerick Clare Education and Training Board (LCETB) and its Ennis campus is the main base. A state-of-the art recording studio, which is also available as a space for young bands to rehearse and record, is one of the jewels in the crown of the organisation’s activities.
“We invested close to €100,000 in the studio and it’s fantastic to be able to make that available to those taking part in our programmes as well as any young bands who would like to access it,” Pádraig said.
After school tuition is also available for budding musicians at locations including Ennistyon, Ennis, Shannon, Kilkee and Killaloe. As well as learning instruments, there’s also a strong focus on music production and technology, something that Pádraig is particularly passionate about. “Kids just love that,” he said, “because they are so tuned in to technology. It also introduces them to areas where there is potential employment in the future. I did a degree and MA in the area at the University of Limerick (UL) and that’s an avenue for young people, as well as the programme at the World Academy. I suppose what we’re doing is sprinkling the seeds and letting them grow.”
As well as making a wide range of instruments available to kids and teens, Music Generation Clare are also opportunities to explore more contemporary forms like rap.
“Oisín Ó Cualáin looks after rap and song writing and that’s really popular,” Pádraig said. “We also work with the Youth Service to help to get bands set up and performing. That’s going on alongside our junior trad group, who are getting lessons from Tara Breen of The Chieftains. We also have an initiative called The Noteables, which gets teens together across all genres of music. We could have a concertina player sitting beside a rapper and what I love to see is the kid who might sit shyly in the corner starting to chat and share Spotify and Apple Music playlists and get really involved.”
A vocal programme called ‘Lyrix’ will roll out soon, putting the focus on boosting mental well-being through using the voice.
Pádraig has been in his role with Music Generation Clare for the last two years and the organisation is clearly benefitting from having a skilled composer and producer at the helm. He is considered to be one of the most influential folk musicians of his generation. With his bands, various solo and collaborative projects, Pádraig has pioneered a new sound in Irish folk and embraced experimental, improvised, jazz, and electronic music. He is passionate about fostering a love of music, song and production technology in the younger generation.
“The benefits of getting involved with any of these initiatives are just huge,” Pádraig said. “I know this as a parent and as development officer with Music Generation Clare. It’s so important that kids have an opportunity for interaction. We can provide that safety. We see so much social anxiety creeping in to kids’ lives and that’s happening more and more. It could be a very long road back for this generation and that’s why we want to make sure that every child in Clare has access. We’re very conscious too that while online opportunities are great, there are kids who won’t have great broadband access. We make sure that we can provide pre-recorded videos that kids can download when they’re in an area with good coverage, and we also provide options over Zoom and other platforms.”
Full details of Music Generation Clare’s programmes and facilities are available from email@example.com.
Partner organisations include Clare County Council, Clare Youth Service, glór, Consairtín, EI Electronics, JP McManus and the Tomar Trust.