Making Real Music... Virtually!

St Molaga’s Arts Week 2020 was like no other. They usually welcome storytellers, musicians and artists of all kinds to entertain, enthuse and educate the students through the arts.

Due to public health restrictions as a result of the pandemic, St. Molaga’s could not allow guest artists to pass the school gates. However, in the words of the school’s new arts coordinator, Gillian O’Brien: “As we always do, we adapted.”

Arts Week at St. Molaga’s turned out to be a great way to celebrate the first half-term the students have spent together in the classroom since returning to school after such a long period of missing their friends. From 19th to 23rd October 2020, various arts events took place in St. Molaga’s, including performances and online arts appreciation. The children responded so well to live musicians and once again the benefits of arts education were clear for all to see.

Maybe the most special of all activities during Arts Week brought together the students from all five 5th classes in the form of a collaborative and interactive workshop with the Irish Institute of Music and Song (IIMS). Dónal Kearney is founder and CEO of the IIMS, a new world-facing music facility based just a few minutes from St. Molaga’s in Balbriggan, Co. Dublin.

Gillian and Dónal identified an initial problem, however. In Dónal’s words: “Since singing is not permitted inside schools around the country, St. Molaga’s wanted to make sure the students could enjoy a musical experience without worrying. The solution, in this instance, was an energetic, fun and interactive live body percussion workshop.” said Dónal.

For obvious reasons, most of the musical courses have not actually taken place on campus this year. Dónal and his team at the IIMS have adapted to create interactive online classes so that no one misses out on music education during the pandemic. Since September, the IIMS has taught workplace choirs in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Canada; it has recorded podcasts with musicians in Germany, Spain and California; and it has attracted students from across England, Ireland and the USA with its Irish Folk Song online courses.

Dónal said: “We have been working with St. Molaga’s National School since last year as part of our Schools Outreach programme in the run up to the Fingal International Festival of Voices. They have a brilliant music department with many talented pupils and Gillian O’Brien is a true advocate for the arts. Sometimes people can be intimidated by live online sessions, but Gillian facilitated the interactive workshops and preparation wonderfully so that both the teachers and students were able to relax and enjoy the workshop. It almost felt like I was actually in the classroom with them!”

Each of the 5th class teachers at St. Molaga’s received a guide video one week before Arts Week so that the class could prepare for the live interactive workshop. The 45-minute workshops were recorded live and compiled into a short performance video, which is now available to watch on the Irish Institute of Music and Song YouTube channel. You can even join in with the body percussion routine and see if you can keep up!

Ms O’Brien said: “We were extremely fortunate to collaborate with Donal Kearney and the Irish Institute of Music and Song. Donal and his team created a teaching percussion lesson for our students to engage and interact with, live in their classrooms. As the children performed they were recorded and the talented team in IIMS have created an amazing video of all our pupil’s musical talent.”

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