ConCorda Re-Imagined | Moving the Chamber Music Course for Strings Online for 2020

Summer 2020 was an uncertain one for all of us. In normal circumstances, IAYO would have been working with our partners to bring our summer courses across the country. This includes the ConCorda Chamber Music Course for Strings which, for the past number of years, has taken place in Newtown School, Waterford.

At the start of the summer, when it became clear that residential music courses would not be happening, the ConCorda artistic team, directors and staff were faced with a daunting task of how to still hold ConCorda for the young musicians but potentially in a different format. They wanted to create a course that would be as close to a ‘normal’ ConCorda as possible with plenty of learning, playing and socialising. What they developed went beyond everyone’s expectations! We have asked Course Director Peggy Nolan to write a piece on her experiences and how ConCorda Re-Imagined was created!

“When faced with the possibility in March of social distancing precautions extending into the summer, our initial reaction from the ConCorda team was to try and do anything possible to create a course that could be delivered safely in person. Many hours on the phone and flurries of emails went into devising plan B, C, D and more, that would allow us to come together and play chamber music, as we have every summer on ConCorda since its formation over 20 years ago. Over the weeks it became clear that no plan that involved us being together in summer 2020 would be safe and viable, and so ConCorda 2020 was catapulted online and termed ConCorda Re-Imagined.

Chamber music is one of the most collaborative, challenging and rewarding artforms there is, but how were we to devise an online course that would reflect these fundamental cornerstones of ensemble work without any possibility of playing together?

ConCorda is not only a space to play chamber music, attend concerts, make friends and have fun, and to perform together. It is a week where every student on the course has a chance to have complete independence and ownership over their music-making, from interpreting the score together, to exploring the musical expression through movement, right down to their performances in the final concert.

Our Artistic staff are so passionate about teaching and sharing music, and our students are all bright, creative and open-minded young musicians. With no deadlines or audiences to think about, ConCorda Re-Imagined gave us a unique opportunity to explore everything there is never enough time for, delivered by our Artistic staff through 72 sessions over five days, all over Zoom, in the safety and comfort of our own homes.

35 performance classes gave every student the opportunity to perform to a small group, as well as a space to talk about music, to give feedback and share experiences, and to build confidence and communication skills. 28 workshops ranged from deciphering the score of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to managing performing anxiety; nitty-gritty technique classes, to discovering rarely heard and neglected music, and everything in between. Our world-class Quartet-in-residence, the Marmen Quartet, dialled in from four different countries and not only gave wonderful performance classes and workshops but also participated in a Q & A for everyone on the course. Although we couldn’t play together at all, every single activity was geared towards developing the skills that make us chamber musicians, ready to test out and keep developing at the earliest opportunity!

At every stage in the planning for ConCorda Re-Imagined, we were faced with uncertainty. How would the technical aspects work? After so much screen time will there be enough interest in yet another online course? How can we make sure that it will be valuable? How can we create a good atmosphere and sense of togetherness, when we are so far apart? All of the staff, whether teaching, managing, or organising social activities went above and beyond to make sure that every challenge was met and overcome. Our students, however, were what made this course such a success; in particular their energy, openness, and boundless appetite for learning, which completely exceeded any expectations. Rather than being dubious or put off by the glaring fact that we would not be doing any playing together, every one of them grabbed the opportunity to engage with music in a totally different way. Their discussions were lively and articulate, social activities welcoming and predictably hilarious, and their playing was generous, communicative and full of heart. The future of Chamber Music in Ireland is bright!”

 – Peggy Nolan

Other testimonials

We also asked ConCorda Artistic Director, and leader of the Irish Chamber Orchestra, Katherina Hunka, for her thoughts on ConCorda Re-Imagined:
“Peggy devised something that surpassed all my wildest dreams, I have to admit I didn’t think an online course could be rewarding for the students. I was very wrong. The ConCorda vibe was there in spades, it was a delight to be a part of it and all the students were on fire. Sophie handled all the technical aspects as if she had been doing it all her life.”

Once we started receiving feedback from the young musicians after the course, we knew something special had happened and that ConCorda Re-Imagined was a success! To hear such positivity from regular ConCordians was just wonderful! One such testimonial was from Aisling Martin:

“ConCorda Re-Imagined 2020 was the most invigorating experience I have had all quarantine. I had forgotten what it was like to be such a wonderful environment of such fine musicians where we could all work together in harmony. The standard of tutoring and engagement was phenomenal. Last year’s ConCorda was so wonderful, I really had no idea how it would be possible for an online version to replicate the same vivacity. I was blown away by how rich the quality of this year’s chamber music course was. I came to the clear realisation that ConCorda has nothing to with a time or place. It is a spirit that comes from young and mature musicians alike sharing a passion for music.”

And even those who were new to ConCorda were able to experience the usual joy, friendship and fun that they would have had. We were delighted to read this comment from Ava Healy:

“I loved this course! All the topics that I learnt were very interesting and useful. All the staff were extremely nice and were happy to answer any questions. The calls were very easy to join and same with the breakout rooms. It was also something to do and it made me keep up on my practice! I thoroughly enjoyed this course and I would recommend it to anyone who plays the violin, viola or cello. The whole experience was amazing and it was a great welcoming to ConCorda! If this course is done again I will be the first one to sign up! It was amazing!!!!!”

We want to thank all the participants, staff, tutors and the Quartet-in-residence, the Marmen Quartet for their help, support, and participation. ConCorda Chamber Music Course for Strings is supported by the Irish Association of Youth Orchestras, the Irish Chamber Orchestra and The Arts Council.