County Wexford Youth Orchestra Represent Ireland at International Orchestral Festival

cwyo_101-PRESScroppedEmily Redmond recounts her orchestra’s participation in their ’Youth In Action’ Programme, funded under the EU Erasmus+ Programme. Photo: Paidraig Grant

I began researching for a trip abroad for County Wexford Youth Orchestra in July 2013 and was delighted when I came across the article about the Dum Tek Association in San Salvo, Italy on the IAYO website. We had travelled to the Young Prague Festival in 2009 and the International Music Festival in Slovakia in 2011 so we were looking for something that could be a bit different – more of a cultural exchange. I made contact with Cristina Ranalli, the Project Coordinator, in September 2013 and she was extremely positive from our first correspondence. We applied at the right time as they had only chosen one other country for the exchange and they needed two more. After a couple of weeks of email correspondence, we signed the preliminary agreement, which stated that each partner country would receive 70% funding for their upcoming project “Music is Calling – Let’s Play together”, which would take place in July 2014 within the Youth In Action Programme funded by Léargas. The countries chosen as partners were Slovakia, The Netherlands and Ireland along with the Musica in Crescendo Orchestra from San Salvo.

Some of the criteria required to become a partner was that you have to be a non profit / non governmental organisation, have musicians aged between 13 and 25 and be an orchestra active at European level in the youth field.

In the following months, Cristina and I corresponded regularly and I had the difficult task of choosing 15 students from CWYO to travel to Italy in July 2014. We held auditions to make it fair, and I chose to take 4 1st violins, 4 2nd violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos, 2 flutes and 1 piano as I found this had worked well on a previous trip abroad.

In February 2014 we received 10% preparation money (€720), which covered material, music and admin costs. I then began to plan my preparation trip by booking my flight and trains etc., which was reimbursed to me in the summer. I went to San Salvo from April 22nd to 25th to meet the festival organisers and the other country’s conductors. I was asked to bring information about our town, county and country to show at a meeting, and also to bring two Irish orchestral pieces to show to the other conductors. Vincent Kennedy and Peadar Townsend supplied to two pieces and they worked very well.

I was treated very well on the preparation trip and they provided transport and meals for the duration of my stay. I visited some of the host families that my students would be staying with in July, which was a real advantage. We had meetings with the Mayor and town counsellors, which the press and radio attended with us in the Town Hall. All four conductors were given gifts from the host families, the Mayor and the organisers etc., so we could not have been made to feel more welcome. We had several meetings regarding the orchestral music, leisure activities and host families, so they were very efficient and organised which made the advance trip worthwhile.

CWYO left Ireland on July 5th for their 11 day trip to Italy. They spent the day sightseeing in Rome before heading to San salvo, which was funded by small fundraises we had at home. They provided a large coach for the five-hour bus journey, but the time passed quickly because they had fun getting to know the players from the other countries. We were met in the town by the festival organisers and the host families.

Day 1 began with workshops, master-classes and each country giving a presentation about their home county and country. CYWO members wore their hurling, rugby and football jerseys and gave demonstrations of hurling, Irish dancing and mumming which went down a treat! They also provided Tayto and Irish biscuits for all 150 participants, which were warmly received. They gave a twenty minute powerpoint presentation about historical landmarks and general information in Ireland and Wexford, which the students had prepared themselves.

Over the 11 days CWYO gave several performances in the various town squares and concert venues in San Salvo and Vasto. Their main solo concert was in the big town square in San Salvo on July 9th, where the orchestra performed a 70-minute programme of classical, popular, jazz and traditional music. Prior to the trip, CWYO members studied Irish dancing and mumming with members of Danecastle Music Group and this was incorporated into various workshops and concerts over the 11 days. The reaction from the audience was so positive that I was called to a meeting with Mayor Tiziana Magnacca and town counsellors to discuss a possible twinning between San Salvo and Wexford town and the two music schools.

Maestro Simone Genuini arrived from Rome on Day 5 and began intense rehearsals with the 170-piece orchestra, made up of all the country’s students ranging from aged 10 to 25. The sound was incredible and the standard of players was very high. The programme for the finale concert included the two pieces by Irish composers that I had previously given to the organisation. The first piece was ‘Sunny Day in Fethard on Sea’ by Vincent Kennedy and the second was ‘Joy of Youth’ by Peadar Townsend. Both composers said they were honoured to have their pieces performed. The rest of the programme included Gershwin ’American in Paris’, Bartok Romanian Dances, Waltz by Shostakovich, Brahms Hungarian Dance No.5 , and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Each student was presented with a beautiful certificate and t-shirt on the final night and all of the conductors were presented with a hand-cut glass plaque and bouquet of flowers. It was an emotional farewell with the families and students, but most of the students are planning return trips and we have invited many musicians from Slovakia, Italy and Holland to visit us in Ireland any time.

We will receive 70% funding towards the cost of the exchange over the coming weeks. In total it cost each student around €250 for the entire trip. That included their flights, buses trains, meals, accommodation and entry into the Aquapark. The small fundraisers that paid for the trip to Rome on Day 1 also covered the cost of cello hire in Italy.

Each of our students agreed it was without a doubt the best trip out of the three trips abroad that the orchestra have gone on. They thoroughly enjoyed being immersed in the daily cultural activities of dance, song and music. They displayed a great sense of pride in their own cultural traditions, such as sean nós singing, hurling etc.

In the terms of the Erasmus+ / ‘Youth in Action’ project, Emily and the County Wexford Youth Orchestra had to assess how they saw the project developing their social skills and competences.
Emily said: “I saw a positive growth in their personal development and self-esteem through the exchange of life stories, which made them reflect on their own reality, values and ideas. Being with other young people who share similar interests helped to stimulate a positive self-image and take pride in who they are.”

The criteria that CWYO described to ‘Youth in Action’ were as thus:

  • A better understanding of other cultures; their languages, music, food and dance.
  • Group situations helped them to gain confidence in interacting with large groups, be more creative and build on intercultural competences.
  • They improved social skills by participating in team challenges with the other countries, joint creative workshops and cultural presentations.
  • They also practiced their IT skills, which again helped them to plan, work and co-operate as a team.

You can find out more about the Erasmus+ programme here.