Youth Orchestra Ovation Awards 2021 | Winners and Commended

On Saturday, 16 October 2021, we hosted our inaugural Youth Orchestra Ovation Awards in the beautiful Banquet Hall of Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin.

The Youth Orchestra Ovation Awards celebrate and spread best practice and innovation in the youth orchestra community and our two winners, Coole Music and Athenry Music School, have epitomised this since the beginning of the pandemic. We were truly blown away by the incredible work of these two rural Galway music schools and how, through fantastic leadership, imagination, and determination, they ensured that their young musicians were able to continue performing in individual lessons and as part of ensembles. Musica Fusion Community Orchestra were also awarded a Highly Commended for their tireless work within their community.

Each year, there will be two award winners and also commendations. There are no specific categories – we consider anything that enhances the lives of young people through youth-orchestra participation. If it is high-quality and it involves young people playing in orchestras, we love it! All applications take into consideration the level of development and capacity of a particular orchestra. Our awards are about being fantastic but not necessarily about being the best. 

This year’s awards saw a small gathering of young people who participated in a workshop with Lisa Dowdall, were treated to a wonderful performance by the IAYO’s Online Chamber Ensemble and who got to meet the presenter of the awards, the wonderful Eimear Noone!

Eimear Noone, from County Galway has blazed a trail for female conductors as well as being a prolific composer. Eimear’s composing and conducting work includes twenty-six film and video game titles including notable Blizzard Entertainment titles and The Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Special Orchestra CD. She has conducted many professional orchestras all over the world including the Philadelphia Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic and Danish National Symphony Orchestra, as well as being the first female conductor to conduct at the Oscars. Eimear spoke so inspirationally at the awards to the young musicians present and was extremely generous with her time and knowledge with each of them and we are very grateful to her.

Now let’s hear about our winning orchestras!

Winner | Athenry Music School 

Athenry Music School embarked on a project to move online very early in the pandemic. They made the decision in April 2020 to prepare for an entire year online! To get it right they:

Christopher Hann of Athenry Music School received the award from Eimear Noone and IAYO Chairperson Clare Daly. Photo by Marc O’Sullivan.
  • Piloted 12 hours of online orchestral tuition in June 2020;
  • Surveyed and collated feedback on delivery methods for online orchestra tuition;
  • Sourced an international team of tutors (Ireland, Germany and Brazil);
  • Re-orchestrated repertoire to suit the limitations of online tuition;
  • Sourced multilayer ostinato style pieces;
  • Produced 16 virtual performances and 3 live films. 

They then produced over 100 tutorial videos for their members; to help learn how to tune their own instruments, tackle more difficult section of specific repertoire, develop new techniques, train to be kind to themselves within the recording process, how to set up their screen during online sessions, etc. These tutorial videos were invaluable in aiding the quality of each individual’s playing and confidence in rehearsal and recordings. 

This year Athenry Orchestras have produced 16 virtual productions, involving five different orchestras and 3 live films culminating in over 20,000 views on the Facebook and YouTube channels!
MEGA Orchestra Productions 
Athenry Music School extended their orchestral programme at Christmas to include past students, faculty, associated performers and composers in residence living in Ireland, Europe, the Americas and New Zealand culminating in a joyous Christmas performance!

In April 2021, in association with composer James Ross, they also extended their orchestra to include all their pianists and harps in a 300 strong presentation of Ross’s High 5 for their MEGA Orchestra.

The School continued to support performance of Irish contemporary music, working with two composers, Philip Hammond and Raymond Deane and singer-songwriter, Joey Gavin. 

They also found time for serious fun, all the while, continuing to develop the skills of the young musicians! These included: 

  • Christmas Party Pieces (solo playing);
  • Ice-Cream Party (inspired by Bar 99) (repertoire research);
  • Controlling Conductors (responsiveness);
  • Paint me dynamics (Dynamic expression);
  • Hide and Seek (developing aural skills).

There was also some not-so-serious fun to be had including fancy dress parties, scavenger hunts, monster creations and lots and lots of chatting!

Despite the pandemic, Athenry Music School even increased their orchestra membership by 16 to 177 members and got a new premises up and running – a physical representation of the energy, tenacity and hard work of all involved. 

Throughout the year, Athenry Music School clearly shared much joy and supported each other through the hard months, particularly during the last lockdown!

You can watch a short highlights video here:

Winner | Coole Music and Carolan’s Rambles

2020 was due to be a big year for Coole Music – their intermediate Crescendo Orchestra was supposed to go on tour to Norway in March – a trip they had prepared and fundraised for a year. The Waking the West concert – a most exciting collaboration between Coole Music Youth Orchestra, Youth Ballet West and ConTempo String Quartet got cancelled as well as the annual Graduation concert and a collaboration performance with an American wind band among many others.

Mia Farrell of Coole Music accepted their award, presented by Eimear Noone and IAYO Chairperson Clare Daly. Photo by Marc O’Sullivan.

But they weren’t going to let the pandemic stop them!

In March 2020 as soon as the pandemic hit, they all moved quickly and individual classes at Coole Music went straight online. Orchestral sessions had to stop but they sent out scores and practice videos to ensure their young musicians continued playing.

Shortly after, in June 2020, they produced their very first virtual orchestra production and, in September 2020, they got back on track with all orchestras and ensembles and produced 6 further virtual productions that autumn. Quite the whirlwind!

They also found time for some fun online – end of term dress-up parties, scavenger hunts, improvised storytelling, puppetry and quizzes to keep up the social side of things, especially for the younger members of their orchestras.

They ran a virtual music campaign by the name ‘Carpe Diem – Sing and Play’ which was co-launched by Martin Hayes from Spain and Katharina Baker and with over 400 performers involved, which was also a very successful fundraiser. The project reached over 90,000 people online and over 28,000 engagements on social media.

But perhaps their most creative project was Carolan’s Rambles. With Galway conductor Sinéad Hayes, who is a specialist in Turlough O’Carolan, they created a project involving all their performance groups – 5 string orchestras, wind ensemble and choir – of all ages and levels. This incredible and wide-ranging project produced: 

The final result was presented on European Music Day; 21 June 2021. 

Each group had two interactive workshops with Sinéad where the students learned about Carolan’s life as well as practiced one Carolan tune and another traditional Irish tune to go with it, suitable for the instruments and levels. Some had never played any traditional music before and Sinéad helped everyone to become comfortable with it. The students were encouraged to follow their inspiration on what they heard and learned and to draw or paint, write stories or poems around it or compose their own tunes. A wealth of fantastic creative responses was subsequently submitted by students of all ages, including 18 new tunes! Furthermore, everyone recorded the two tunes they learned. 

Two e-books were put up on Coole Music’s website and out of the tune compilations and the creative responses, Sinéad also created the 15-minute film of Carolan’s Rambles.

As well as launching the e-books and film on European Music Day on 21 June 2021, Coole Music also launched the geolocated ‘Sound Walk’ with a selection of delightful live performance by some of the young musicians involved. A Sound Walk works like this: with the help of sonic maps software, Sinéad virtually “planted” the stories, tunes and poems that the Coole Music students created, into a path along the River of Gort.

As a visitor, this is completely free; you just click on a link on your smartphone and magically, the music and stories start playing in your headphones when you approach the entrance of the River Walk. The stories and poems are all read and recited by the children themselves and different parts of Carolan’s Rambles are triggered at certain points along the walk. The walk takes about 45 minutes and more than 300 visitors have found their way to it so far. 

It is also possible to ‘walk’ the Sound Walk remotely if you cannot take yourself to the location – just click on the link and move the little figure around the walk manually

A new generation of young musicians have shared their creativity with their community and assured them that Carolan’s legacy will live on! 

You can watch Carolan’s Rambles film here:

Highly Commended | Musica Fusion Community Orchestra 

Tom and Emer O’Flaherty received their Highly Commended on behalf of Musica Fusion, presented by Eimear Noone and IAYO Chairperson Clare Daly. Photo by Marc O’Sullivan.

Musica Fusion kept their community orchestra going in every imaginable way through the pandemic with Zoom meetings, sectional rehearsals, online projects and learning lots of new music!

They also embarked on a successful fundraising campaign; one of their students took on the task of writing a beautiful letter which was hand-delivered to every single business in Charleville. They also took a chance and sent a letter to Enya!

The successful campaign allowed them to purchase 40 new stands, timpani, a bass clarinet, 1/16 double bass, a bass clarinet, a bass drum and a piccolo. It also helped them to continue to offer scholarships that make lessons and participation in their orchestra more accessible, in particular encouraging children to take up more unusual instruments.

At present, out of 76 children in the orchestra, 22 benefit either directly (with a scholarship) or indirectly (use of the instruments purchased) from the program. But, the whole orchestra benefits from the diversity of instruments and variety of pieces that they can play because of that diversity.