TWO local schools struck a chord with the judges of a prestigious music competition taking first and second prize in the national finals this week.
Holy Family Senior School was named the winner of the Waltons Music for Schools competition for primary schools after performing their rendition of One Small Voice in Dublin’s National Concert Hall on Monday.
And coming in second place with their own original composition Unfinished Seasons was Knockanean National School .
Both schools were among 12 finalists, six primary and six secondary, performing at the concert hall in the first annual national competition celebrating music in schools.
Holy Family’s 77 strong choir, with 11-year-old soloist Andrea Sheahan, wowed the judges at the finals with director of the Waltons New School of Music John Mardirosian telling The Clare Champion, “We were very impressed by Holy Family Senior School, on behalf of the organisers, I would like to thank them for participating in this competition. To have two Clare schools in the top two is absolutely fantastic.”
Soloist Andrea, a fift- class pupil of Holy Family, said she has been singing since the age of two when she first learned to sing Happy Birthday. She has been a member of the school choir since third class.
“My mother is in the Ennis Cathedral Choir, singing is a part of my life. I wasn’t nervous at the start but then when we were at the National Concert Hall I was bit. But I had a lot of support from the rest of the choir,” she said. Andrea wants to be a singer when she grows up and she already has another concert in the pipeline with plans for her to sing alongside Regina Nathan with the Cathedral Choir.
School principal Sarah Barnes said she is thrilled with the success of the pupils. “We have a huge choir and there is really a long tradition of choirs in the school going back years and it was lovely to be recognised nationally for our special unique talents. We are so incredibly lucky here to have a team of musical experts with the school. We have Jillian Bridge, our co-ordinator of music who is a past pupil, Hugh Connolly violinist, Eilis Sheedy who does traditional music, Antoinette Loftus who conducts and Olivia Cunningham who does dance and choreography.
“Our parents and children have a huge interest in our performing arts and our music in the school and our parents’ association and families all contribute greatly. One Small Voice is very much reflective of the ethos of our school. We feel that we are such an inclusive school and that one small voice can make such a difference to the world. We strive to include all children and to give every child an opportunity to excell.”
Music co-ordinator Jillian Bridge recalled, “When I heard about the competition and saw that the theme was ‘why music?’ I instantly thought One Small Voice would be the perfect song. When we came back after the Christmas holidays, we recorded the children and sent it in. But the competition isn’t just about the performance and musicianship, we also had to give a detailed description of our music programme, our ambitions, creativity and inclusivity.”
The judges were impressed to hear that in addition to a 120-member choir and 80-member chamber choir, the school offers tuition in several instruments including a newly introduced violin teaching programme.
Jillian added, “The children did a good bit of practising, coming in on Thursday during the Easter holidays. They performed in front of a delegation to the library conference in the Clare Education Centre and have performed the song for Bishop O’Reilly. To be chosen as a finalist, in itself, was a huge accomplishment and being given the opportunity to perform in such a prestigious venue as the National Concert Hall, that was a real acheivement. And then to go up, perform and actually win, we’re just over the moon.”
The school won €3,000 worth of vouchers and they now plan to put some of their winnings towards the violin project, a new keyboard and a PA system for the school’s many shows.
Meanwhile, the children of Knockanean National School are also celebrating this week after coming second in the competition. Their entry Unfinished Seasons was made up of an original composition by fifth class pupils and traditional airs and was performed by Cnoc an Éin, a 56-strong grup of instrumentalists and singers.
Principal of Knockanean Pat McNamara said he is delighted with the success of the school in the national competition. “We are absolutely thrilled, the standard at the competition was unreal and just to get to the finals was a major acheivement – to be placed in the top two was above our dreams.
“The piece we entered was composed by the kids themselves so that was something really special and everyone was thrilled that their music could stand up against all the others. And for the children to be able to perform on the same stage where the next evening Sharon Shannon was playing was just amazing. I would like to compliment the work of Joan McNamara whose fifth class composed the piece and of course those involved from sixth, fourth, third and second class. Music is very much a big part of this school,” he said.
The Waltons Music for Schools Competition is subtitled A National Competition and Celebration of Music in Irish Schools and is an annual event offering 12 finalist school music groups the opportunity to perform in the National Concert Hall.
The 12 finalists performing on Monday were chosen by a team of four adjudicators, Gail Henry and Celia Donoghue on behalf of RTÉ Lyric FM, and Aideen Walton and Mr Mardirosian on behalf of Waltons. The finalists’ concert on Monday was a huge event with 578 performers from 12 different schools. According to Mr Mardirosian, “We were so impressed by the quality and diversity of the performances. Well done to all of the 12 great performing groups that travelled from the four corners of Ireland to perform in the finalists’ concert at the National Concert Hall today and warm congratulations to the winning schools. Waltons will be posting videos of the finalist performances on a dedicated YouTube channel, waltonsmusicschools, within a week.”