Carolan’s Rambles – An interactive project to connect people and centuries!

Written by Katharina Baker, Artistic Director, Coole Music & Arts

In the autumn of 2020, Coole Music & Arts in Gort, County Galway explored different possibilities of connecting and playing together in spite of prolonged lockdowns and regulations that did not allow our young players to physically meet for so long. Like many other schools, we met weekly on screens with players and singers and produced numerous video productions.

Come Christmas 2020, we realised that it would yet be another while until we could resume to anything “live” and we were looking for something new and exciting – and for something that could connect all groups in our music school.

The previous months, I had followed an interesting series on Facebook called ‘Carolan350’. It was created by Galway conductor Sinéad Hayes who had explored the life story and musical legacy of Turlough O’Carolan, who, just like Beethoven, had a major Anniversary in 2020 that naturally never received the celebrations the world had planned to give them. For me, it was actually a surprise to find out that Carolan had lived a full 100 years before Beethoven and I started becoming curious about who he was. I knew some of his tunes, but nothing about his life.

Picture by Abby Finnegan, a member of Coole Music & Arts’ Da Capo Orchestra

Fascinated by Sinéad’s series of stories and music reflecting Carolan’s life, I contacted her and asked, could we brainstorm about a possible collaboration project for Coole Music. She was immediately enthusiastic and full of ideas and Carolan’s Rambles was born.

We drew up a concept of Zoom workshops with all our groups – string orchestras, wind ensembles and choirs – of all ages and levels and decided on a film production and a “Sound Walk” as the final result. Sinéad structured everything beautifully and efficiently with an individual activity book for each group and together we created a timeline that allowed for each group to have two interactive workshops with Sinéad where the students learned about Carolan’s life as well as practiced two of his tunes suitable for the instruments and levels. Some had never played any traditional music before and Sinéad helped everyone to become comfortable with the style, ornaments and general feel of it. The workshops were followed up with the different groups by their respective teachers and the students were asked to follow their inspiration on what they heard and learned and to draw/paint, write stories or poems around it or to compose their own tunes. A wealth of fantastic creative responses has subsequently been submitted by students of all ages! Furthermore, everyone recorded the two tunes they learned and Sinéad collected everything in big virtual folders.

At the moment, Sinéad and I are feverishly working through these fantastic folders to produce our film of Carolan’s Rambles – an exciting task! The pictures and stories and our students’ own tunes will be made into E-Books also.

The launch of our film of Carolan’s Rambles (on YouTube) and our “Sound Walk” took place on National Music Day on 21 June! And for those who are not familiar with this kind of “Sound Walk”, it works like this: participants will need to download a free app on their phone and walk along a route that we have virtually planted the sound walk into. Our first location is the Gort River Walk as Coole Music is based in Gort. Our audience – anyone at all! – can tune into the app and once passing the first tree along the Gort River, the music starts playing in their headphones and the story of Carolan’s Rambles begins! At different physical points along the walk, different chapters of the story will automatically start playing. We believe that this will be a really exciting way to share this project with our audience – and once created, we can easily share it in other locations, too.

And if any of you in different parts of the country would like to have the Carolan’s Rambles Sound Walk inserted into a walk in your location, we happily will make that happen, too. Furthermore, if anyone would like to work with your young musicians on Turlough O’Carolan’s extraordinary life and music with Sinéad, do get in touch! I can tell you from my own experience that Sinéad is a dream to work with on any project and we feel so lucky to have had this amazing opportunity! 

More info on the project:

Written by Katharina Baker, Artistic Director, Coole Music & Arts