Presto Project Pivots!

We have been incredibly proud of our members as they adjusted so much over the past year in order to keep the music going and to keep their musicians engaged! We’ve heard from a number of them over the past year but this time, we asked to hear from Presto Project who have done an HUGE amount over the past 15 months!

We asked their Music Director Mairéad Déiseach to write a piece to tell us all about this work:

“Like so many music programmes throughout the country this year, Presto Project had to stop, recalibrate and pivot. However, in the unique context of a 60% unemployment rate, widespread drug addiction issues and high levels of crime in Cherry Orchard Dublin, the Covid 19 challenge has been compounded. In order to continue with our ‘Music for Opportunity’ programme, we have dug deep, found support in surprising places and now emerge stronger, propelled forward by our shared love of music.

Presto Project is an El Sistema inspired music programme, where our close partnership with the community in Cherry Orchard is at the core of what we do. St Ultan’s Campus is unique; a Primary School, a Nursery, a Care Unit and a Music Programme, all cohesively working together to break the cycle of poverty. Gary Jones, principal and Campus Manager, is a visionary catalyst in this process. Just like Abreu’s Venezuelan model of music for social change had to be imaginative to progress, we had to reinvent ourselves in many guises these past few months; online individual lessons, weekly virtual orchestral rehearsals, outreach services to homes to maintain instruments, ‘Zoom & Tune’ tutorials, cross-campus traditional Irish music sessions, online intense theory classes.

The parents of our students have been our heroes in so many ways; they have welcomed us virtually into their homes by facilitating online lessons, have logged their children’s practice amounts via email on a weekly basis, have bravely learned how to fit strings and adjust reeds and improvised with homemade music stands! Their spirit and sense of humour has carried us all forward.

Our Pre-Instrumental programme has flourished this year despite the ‘bubble’ restrictions. Simultaneous live online classes, together with pre-recorded videos, have enabled us to deliver a musical experience to our babies, wobblers, toddlers and infants in a more time-efficient manner. An Post has transported sheet music, strings, chocolate and motivating prizes for us. We are deeply indebted to RIAM for their proactive and clear approach in facilitating online exams. This has given many of our students a goal and has fostered a closer level of cooperation between our music students, their parents and our wonderful team of Presto tutors.

Three big highlights for us over the past year have been; firstly our ‘Presto Players’ orchestra’s virtual Christmas performance of ‘The Twelve Days Of Christmas’, Cherry Orchard-style, where the piece was rearranged and reimagined to the lyrics of ‘ a cello in a cherry tree’, all expertly and musically drawn together by our talented Programme Facilitator, Peter Mullen.

The second highlight was partaking in the ‘Bands of Ireland’ St Patrick’s Day performance, where a number of our students uploaded their recordings and were so delighted to be part of this large-scale collaboration.

A third highlight this year was facilitated so expertly by Crash Ensemble; a collaborative project entitled ‘Micro Pieces’, where five of our fortunate students benefitted from the unique expertise and talent of Lisa Dowdall and her colleagues over a series of workshops. This project will, we hope, encourage other children to partake in creative composition and improvisation with sound.

Our teenage students are represented by the ‘Presto Youth Forum’ and are encouraged to actively have a say in selecting repertoire for Presto Players. So far this year, we have deconstructed Bach’s ‘Air On a G String’ and have embraced the 90’s hip hop version ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’, a sentiment which brought us courage. We’ve tried to capture the calming atmosphere of Brahms’ Lullaby as part of a cross- campus healthy sleep initiative, in aid of the Peter McVerry Trust. The ‘Jerusalema’ challenge was one we couldn’t pass up either so our orchestra have most recently been rocking to the dance extravaganza by Master KG, all online.

Yes we have pivoted. Yes it’s been difficult. But we are proudly and positively facing in the right direction and pirouetting our way to the next Presto phrases and phases.”

– Mairéad Déiseach, Music Director