Sligo Academy of Music hit New York

On Friday, 22 June, 64 members of the Sligo Academy of Music left for New York, in a tradition of travel that spans seven years, previously having performed in locations such as Amsterdam, Budapest, Paris, Prague, and most recently New York. Some of the Academy’s many musicians were to play together on this trip, the two groups being the SAM Sinfonietta and the SAM Jazz Orchestra, conducted by Niamh Crowley and Con Schmaucks respectively.

Sligo Academy of Music orchestras sit on the pier in New York City with Sligo flag

On the first evening the orchestras were hosted by Ronan Downes at his Route 66 Smokehouse restaurant in the heart of Wall Street, and just as night began to fall and with the city still buzzing, Ronan’s son Thomas gave the group a tour of the area, through the towering buildings and the stately monuments, then onto the 9/11 memorial as the final stop for the day.

The orchestras’ first engagement on Saturday was to play a concert on Coney Island. Both orchestras performed for the public; the Sinfonietta playing a lively programme filled with classic Mancini pieces such as The Pink Panther and Peter Gunn, and a few Irish touches also, in Riverdance and An Irish Party in Third Class; while the Jazz Orchestra worked through a remarkable spread of swing, funk, and Latin big band jazz. The performance lasted around an hour, leaving the remainder of the morning to the Coney Island Amusement Park; the music stands were barely put away before the brass section were hurtling through the air on the numerous roller coasters. After a quick stop to drop the instruments at the hotel, the young musicians visited The Top of The Rock observation deck in the Rockefeller Centre where they saw the full range of the cityscape of New York. Following this iconic view of the city, the group walked to the bustling Times Square, where they dined at the Hard Rock Café and visited Madame Tussaud’s.

Sunday morning the orchestras travelled to the USS Intrepid Air and Space Museum for their second performance. With the Sligo flag flying proudly beside them, in a sweltering heat that leant a beautiful rich sound to the brass and woodwind, the orchestras played to an appreciative public, as well as supporters of the trip and relatives of the players. Sligo native Gerry McGwynn, who was an invaluable help to the orchestra in organising the concert tour, was in attendance as was Chris Cawley (President of the Sligo Association of New York) and members of the Sligo-New York Football Club. After exploring the wonders of the museum, the orchestras attended the Broadway musical School of Rock.

Their ears were still ringing with that sound distinctive to Broadway when the next morning both Jazz and Classical orchestras took part in a Broadway Orchestral Workshop, where they studied a selection of pieces from past Broadway scores. The masterclass was led by legendary conductor and composer Michael Dansicker (who has arranged the scores for High School Musical, Elf and Analyse This to name a few) alongside the equally accomplished director and choreographer Michael Watson. Friend Like Me from ‘Aladdin’ was studied intensively, with respect to rhythmic intricacies and technical power, but for the most part, they worked on how to dance while playing. To round off these fantastic few hours, there was time for questions with the guest appearance of two time Grammy award winning jazz musician Ryan Truesdell. The workshop was the highlight of the trip for our musicians.

It was not long before they were on a boat for Ellis Island to see the Statue of Liberty. They arrived at JFK close to seven that evening to discover the flight was delayed by over eight hours. What else would be the response of the intrepid musicians but to open up their instruments and entertain the departure hall for a couple of hours!

This brought to a close a magical few days of music making. We are so grateful to everyone who helped to make this once in a lifetime experience a reality for the students of The Sligo Academy of Music.