Making Music with The Marble Collective: The Kerry Teaching Residency

In Spring, 2022, Music Network and St John’s Theatre & Arts Centre, Listowel invited County Kerry residents aged 55 and over to join an exciting music project with The Marble Collective. The focus of this project was on returning to playing an instrument and sharing the joy of group music-making. The Kilkenny-based Marble Collective comprises musicians, Laoise O’Brien (recorders), Maria Ryan (violin) and Michael O’Toole (guitar) who bring together wide-ranging experience and expertise. They perform music from the 1500s through to modern day including works by composers such as John Dowland, J.S. Bach, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Scott Joplin and Philip Glass, in addition to Irish tunes and folk music from all over Europe.
On Saturdays and Sundays during March and April 2022, participants received eight one-to-one instrumental lessons, in addition to three group lessons with others playing the same instrument. As well as playing together, the participants enjoyed three informal coffee sessions which included chats on wide-ranging musical topics. The project concluded with three large-ensemble sessions after the Easter break, where all participants joined together to play ensemble pieces from different musical eras.

For Laoise O’Brien, the most rewarding aspect of the project was the sense of community that was fostered around the sessions. Laoise has said:
“Listowel is a beautiful town full of heritage and culture and there is a sense that arts participation is part and parcel of daily life. St John’s Theatre & Arts Centre, under the excellent curatorship of Máire Logue, is everything one might hope from an arts centre: open, inclusive, welcoming, diverse, and a beautiful space to inhabit. In addition, we had use of the Writer’s Museum across the road, another historic space filled with creativity.
The three of us, Maria, Michael and I, travelled together from Kilkenny so our journeys across the country were filled with chats and laughter, and it was a great way for us to review the work we had just done, and plan for the following sessions.
During the lessons we covered technical considerations, brushed up on note reading and musical theory, discussed repertoire, and looked at some of the challenges around playing with other people, including playing in tune and with a communal sense of pulse.
The instrumental group sessions involved meeting the other participants from each instrument group. For the recorder group, we were very much at home as consort playing is an integral part of what we do.
We were delighted, and most appreciative, to have the loan of some wooden recorders: alto, tenor and bass, from the Irish Association of Youth Orchestras. IAYO received these recorders with thanks to Dunlavin Youth Orchestra & Dorly O’Sullivan. While most people who learn recorder start on the small soprano recorder, not everyone gets the opportunity to play on the larger instruments, so it was great to introduce these recorders to the group and to explore the tonal possibilities they brought.
There was a lovely camaraderie amongst the participants, and it was wonderful to watch them develop over the weeks, with many musical memories and skills coming to the surface. Most of the participants had learnt music in school. Some participants had continued to enjoy music through choral groups and traditional music, but most hadn’t had the opportunity to perform on their respective instruments since they were teenagers. It’s always quite amazing what information has been stored in our brains, and how muscle memory can come back very quickly.
A big thank you Music Network, St John’s Theatre & Arts Centre, and to all the participants who joined us. And a shout out to the Listowel Arms Hotel for taking such good care of us during our time in Listowel.”

IAYO would also like to thank Dorly O’Sullivan and Dunlavin Youth Orchestra for the kind donation of instruments. Making Music with The Marble Collective: the Kerry Teaching Residency is presented by Music Network and St John’s Theatre & Arts Centre, Listowel. Music Network is funded by the Arts Council of Ireland. St John’s Theatre & Arts Centre is funded by Kerry County Council and the Arts Council of Ireland.