IAYO Summer Practice Clubs | We speak to Artistic Director, Lisa Dowdall

Every Saturday, from 11.30am – 1pm, we have hosted an online Practice Club – a space where musicians of any age can learn, discuss, share, and try out some new techniques and approaches to practising, playing and performing, hosted by some of the finest professional musicians.

Led and curated by Artistic Director Lisa Dowdall, musicians, composers and performers including Bill Dowdall, Sharon Carty and Virginia Kerr, shared their invaluable experiences and knowledge on how they like to practice with our ‘Clubbers’!

We asked Lisa to tell us more about the Club!

“Too often we think that the important part of being a musician is our performance. We forget that the practice room is where we find our voice and nurture our creativity. It’s where we dream up ideas, work out our plans, find ways to solve our problems, and prepare our work to be ready for the outside world.

Your approach, style and method of practising should support you in becoming and learning how to become the artist you want to be. People often say “it’s not how much you practice, it’s HOW you practice”. This is good advice, but sometimes we don’t know HOW to practice.

The IAYO team had an idea to create an online practice club. It’s an idea they borrowed from ConCorda Chamber Music Course for Strings, where, as Allin Gray (IAYO Director) explained to me, ConCorda participants met in the mornings to practice together online and how it was a lovely way of building a community. I thought this was a beautiful idea, especially considering how many musicians have felt isolated in their music making over the past year and a half.

Myself and Allin had lots of chats about what we thought could be of benefit to the community, and that is where Practice Club as we know it know began. A place where, regardless of age, background, level, instrument or genre, a group of people could simply turn up with their instrument and explore a new approach or way of playing, thinking or working.

Each of our guests had something to offer that will be of value to all, but what I particularly loved was that the methods and approaches resonated differently with all our members. There is indeed no “right” way of practising or playing.

For Practice Club, we all meet at 11.30am on Saturday mornings on Zoom, cups of tea in one hand, instruments in the other. Our guests are introduced and then we get stuck in. I’ve tried so many things this summer that I would not have done if not for Practice Club. Every Saturday for 90 minutes I listen, learn, and try out what the guests have prepared for us. Some approaches are analytical, some are instinctive, some are creative and “mad” and some are scientifically tried and tested techniques. I never know what’s in store when I open my case every Saturday, but every time Practice Club finishes I feel invigorated and excited for the next time I practice.

Thank you to IAYO – Allin, Sinéad, and Bertie – Ilona, and all our fantastic members and guests for making Practice Club so special.”

We had a great number of very dedicated Club members who joined us weekly. One of these was violist Ilona Adams who also came on board to help us run the Clubs each week by organising the streaming of the sessions to YouTube and managing each Zoom meeting. We asked Ilona what her experience of Practice Club has been like:

“I think the Practice Club is a brilliant way to keep up motivation during the summer. It’s really inspiring finding out how so many different artists approach practice and it’s really helped me to better understand the music I’m working on!”

Another of our dedicated ‘Clubbers’ was cellist and pianist Aoife Burke who became a very familiar face to us throughout the programme! Aoife spoke to us about how she felt Practice Club helped her:

“I was very interested when I heard about the Practice Club and signed up straight away! I think we all struggle to know how to practice so I thought that this could really help refresh my daily routine and how I was playing new and familiar pieces. I play cello and piano and have had a lot of injuries this last year so how I practice has had a lot of changes and much stopping and starting since summer 2020.

The Practice Club is a great new initiative set up this summer involving weekly Saturday morning Zoom sessions helping us to practice more effectively, economically and with enjoyable and fun new ideas. We were also introduced to thought-provoking philosophies, body awareness, breathing, and movement. Games were also a large factor in helping us to enjoy our practice times while urging us towards better understanding of how we can play and perform better. Performance prep is a vital aspect and I really enjoyed the techniques suggested as to how we can overcome nerves and work towards playing for others without losing the plot…

The standard of presenters was top notch as everyone involved is at the highest level in their field. I found that they very much understood all our struggles as they experience them too but have managed to find ways to deal with and overcome them in order to reach their professional level. They were so engaging which made it easy to feel comfortable and connected to them and what they were saying. My inner critics are loud and fierce creatures and I have enjoyed learning how to quiten them down by using new psychological techniques and brain games – I now have much more positive and uplifting sessions at home and in my lessons.

Thank you so much to you all for a fascinating, enjoyable and all-round great summer of chats, ideas and fun. I had to miss a couple of mornings but being able to catch up with them on YouTube was an excellent resource.”

We would like to take this time to thank everyone who was involved in Practice Club, either hosts or participants. This was a new initiative for IAYO and we were absolutely delighted with how it went. Our hope is that we will use the recorded footage and experiences to create a Practice Club Hub which will be available online later in the year.