The Agnes O’Kane Award 2019 goes to Mary Armitage

The Irish Association of Youth Orchestras presents The Agnes O’Kane Award 2019 to Mary Armitage from Donegal Youth Orchestra .

Pictured from left are Rosa Flannery, Music Generation Laois, who presented Mary the award; Mary Armitage; Ruth Crimmins, grand-daughter of the late Agnes O’Kane; and Philip O’Kane, Agnes’s husband.

The award is made annually to someone who has made a significant contribution to youth orchestras. Mary won for her work with our own Donegal Youth Orchestra.

She was nominated by Martin McGinley, Music Development Manager with Donegal Music Education Partnership, and Vincent Kennedy – Conductor of Donegal Youth Orchestra. Their testimonies to her commitment made her an obvious candidate.

Mary Armitage has been the heart at the centre of the Donegal Youth Orchestra for the past 20 years. Her unsparing commitment, reflected in her attendance at every rehearsal and concert, is extraordinary, as is her role in the development of music in Donegal. She was involved from the beginning in the efforts which brought about the Donegal School of Music, and also the Donegal Music Education Partnership.

The DMEP has transformed the music scene in Donegal, organising mainly one-to-one lessons in ´classical´ music for around 450 students of instruments and voice, as well as ten performing groups. These include the Donegal Youth Orchestra, the Donegal Chamber Orchestra, Donegal Junior Strings and the Donegal Youth Choir.

Mary´s influence can be seen in so many areas of the organisation, and particularly in relation to the orchestra. She has taken on the role of volunteer orchestra manager, to everyone´s benefit. She identifies the need for extra sectional work, and she arranges scholarships to meet orchestra needs. Her personal touch and impact on orchestra members deserves first mention.

Mary is always in good spirits and takes a keen interest in each person and makes everyone feel welcome. During every rehearsal she prepares refreshments for all the players and conductor. She also knows all the previous members who turn up to concerts or who play on occasion. She has a knack of knowing who is not well, who might be a bit lonely (ensuring that some other member is charged with helping that person).

A keen spotter of leadership from an early age, Mary gives people responsibilities as she sees fit. Such is the affection that the members have for Mary they are only too willing to help and many ask before they leave (and after they have done their chores in the tidying up) is there anything else that needs doing.

Each year from early October she is on the hunt for presents for the annual Christmas raffle which is a great source of funding for the orchestra. Each year the number of gifts from hotel weekend vouchers to Christmas hampers grows to the degree that the raffle at the Christmas concert of the Donegal Music Education Partnership must be the biggest concert raffle in the country.

Mary has a wonderful collaborative relationship with the conductor too and with all in the Donegal Music Office ensuring that the funding is always in place for travelling and instruments. She is a committee member of the Jim Rafferty Foundation, which has made two significant donations of orchestral instruments in 2017 and 2018. She is also active in attracting new players. In September 2018 the orchestra lost seven players and gained 19 – a very positive outcome!

The sense of professionalism and the courtesy the members show is a testament to Mary Armitage’s influence on the development of all the young people who have been privileged to be a member of Donegal Youth Orchestra under Mary’s loving and warm care and brilliant organisation. Mary deserves every recognition for her role and commitment.

Congratulations Mary!