Vanessa Sweeney: Our School Music Teachers Are Wonderful

A bit of good news from Vanessa Sweeney! Vanessa, in February, adjudicated at the Inter Schools Music Festival in Wesley College and she wanted to share some wonderful words with us:

“With the shadow of Covid-19 looming but before the beginning of the spread of this horrible virus in Ireland, the organisers at the Interschools Music Festival decided not to cancel the Festival and to go ahead as planned. I had been invited as adjudicator for the Chamber music and Orchestra/Band competitions.

What I heard during the day was so impressive that I thought it deserved honourable mention in this newsletter.

Vanessa Sweeney conducting DYO Junior Strings at this year's Festival of Youth Orchestras

Vanessa Sweeney conducting DYO Junior Strings at this year’s Festival of Youth Orchestras. © John Soffe 2020.

There were two competitions for Chamber Music, junior and senior (I heard about 20 groups) and four for Orchestras and Bands (I heard about 30 groups). The challenge when adjudicating this type of competition is that there is no set piece and each group chooses what they want to play. The real test is: have they chosen a piece that suits their level of technical and musical ability and how well do they actually perform and communicate this piece? So an elementary string quartet who have chosen a piece in which they have matched their bowing styles, play in tune, and interpret the music with interesting dynamics and good communication can achieve a good mark. Equally, a more advanced group (I heard a Scherzo from Brahms piano quartet!!) will be judged at the level of that music and if they can’t bring it off they would not do so well….so there is no point in presenting music you would aspire to play but cannot manage yet! As a general piece of advice when competing in this type of Festival when there is no set piece, choose music that fulfils 2 criteria:
You can play it and, you like the piece!

My reason for being so impressed is that almost all of the groups I heard fulfilled these criteria…which brings me to the teachers behind all this and the reason for this article.

I know some schools have fantastic instrumental programmes within their own schools but many have to work with the combination of instruments and players that are available within their school whatever the eclectic mixture.

I want to compliment these wonderful teachers who motivate and tutor groups of all shapes and sizes, who cleverly adapt music to suit the individual needs of the students in their group, who source music to fit the group they are working with….from elementary string or wind ensembles with a handful of players, to large wind bands, jazz bands and school orchestras of 60-80 players. Somehow within the busy schedules of school and the huge demands of sport, debating societies, etc. and against all the odds at times, they manage to organise and timetable rehearsals and concerts (often at 8am) and inspire their students to want to participate in making music together.

Having retired from school music teaching, and from a little distance, I really appreciate just what a great musical education many of our young people are getting in their schools thanks to their WONDERFUL SCHOOL MUSIC TEACHERS!”

– Vanessa Sweeney