Agnes O’Kane Award

Joanna Crooks received the Agnes O’Kane award at the recent Festival of Youth Orchestras in acknowledgement of her many years of voluntary work on behalf of young musicians in Ireland. Joanna has played an instrumental part in so many organisations over the years including Dublin Youth Orchestras, IAYO (of which she was the original Festival Manager), the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland, The European Federation of National Youth Orchestras, Jeunesses Musicales Ireland and, latterly, the St Agnes Violin Project and Orchestra.

The story of Joanna’s involvement with youth orchestras started in the early 1980’s when Joanna and Agnes used to meet whilst waiting for their respective children to finish lessons at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. They wanted their children to have the opportunity to experience ensemble playing and they evolved a vision and hatched plans that emerged as Dublin Youth Orchestras which they started in 1982. As part of Dublin Youth Orchestras Joanna was involved in beginning the Aravon Chamber Music Courses and organised and managed many tours for the ever-expanding DYO, which eventually reached the four orchestras that it has today.

In 1995, Joanna started the Irish branch of Jeunesses Musicals and provided many activities, courses and concerts for young people. While involved with Jeunesses, she also became General Manager of the Irish Youth Orchestra in 1996 and undertook to write a manual for those travelling with youth orchestras. This latter was published by Jeunesses Musicales and IAYO in 1997 under the title Going Places with a Youth Orchestra. (Going Places is still available from the IAYO web site).

Joanna undertook many ambitious projects with the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland during her ten-year tenure of which the crowning glory was concert performances of the full Ring cycle. She introduced the audition workshops around the country for players who had not been in the orchestra before and the ‘Touch Bass’ workshops that saw many players get started on instruments for which players were in short supply.

On stepping down from her position with NYOI, Joanna joined forces with Sr Bernadette Sweeney at St Agnes Primary School in Crumlin and started a scheme that allows all 400 pupils of the school to learn violin. Young players can join the orchestra simply by asking and choose to learn viola, cello or bass. The orchestra and programme has expanded to include boys from Scoil Colm in Crumlin as well as ex-pupils of St Agnes and the latest project, a parent’s orchestra.

Joanna’s aim has always been to provide and improve the experience for and of players and to pursue the highest level of excellence while doing so. Philip O’Kane expressed the sentiment perfectly when presenting the award, ‘Thank you for the music!’.

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