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Workshop in Community Music at Derry Choral Festival

What makes a community break down? What factors limit opportunities for people to meet? What issues prevent integration in Irish town?


These complex questions arose in conversations following the International Symposium at Derry Choral Festival, chaired by Artistic Director Dónal Doherty.


In the beautiful setting of the great hall at University of Ulster Magee campus, a room full of undergraduate Magee students assembled to learn a little bit more about this fascinating topic.

IIMS co-founder Dónal Kearney was invited to Derry Choral Festival to participate in a panel on the topic of community music. In particular, the morning focused on the Song Seeking project, a music programme delivered in six direct provision centres across Ireland.


The Song-Seeking project culminated in a showcase event in the National Concert Hall in July 2010. The panel at the International Symposium invited anecdotal impressions on the project from Dónal. Director of Sing Ireland, Dermot O'Callaghan, also sat on the panel and gave a presentation on the structure of the project - a collaboration between Mary Immaculate College (UL), the Irish Refugee Council and Sing Ireland.


Dónal was then invited to conduct a workshop, exploring some of the pedagogical concepts of community music. What earlier in the panel discussion had been a bunch of dozing students, slowly waking to the light of their phone screens, turned into an energetic group of lively young people, singing, dancing and laughing with each other.


Dónal is a certified 'Community Music Leader' with Musicians Without Borders, a humanitarian organisation committed to using music as a tool for change in conflict and post-conflict zones across the world.

Also on the panel was an activist from Fáilte Inishowen, a community group set up to welcome migrants and help cultural integration in Moville, Co. Donegal. During Dónal's postgraduate studies at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, he also studied the Irish system of direct provision.


In Dónal's words:

Using music as a way to open people's minds to new ideas might seem like an unusual approach. But anyone who participates in these workshops can relate to the sensation of feeling outside your comfort zone; the sensations of vulnerability and solidarity are extremely powerful.

The feedback from the workshop was a very interesting way to open up a discussion on the power of community music initiatives, and the perceived differences between community musicians and professional or 'serious' musicians.


The International Symposium is closed for another successful year of Derry Choral Festival. However, this conversation will continue long into the future...



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