The first time I played at IAYO Festival was a very special experience – I think I still have the programme from that night saved somewhere! It was a big deal for our young orchestra to be involved in such an important event.
Ciara Cavanagh is a freelance violinist and music teacher and she holds an MA in Cultural Management from the University of Catalonia, Spain. She plays violin with a number of orchestras and chamber music groups in the Dublin area and is a member of teaching staff on the Royal Irish Academy of Music’s Diploma in Community and Group Music Teaching. In 2012 she worked with Dublin City Council to lead a music workshop aimed at primary school children and she currently teachers a number of strings projects in the Dublin area, including the St Agnes Violin and Orchestra Project, Crumlin, The Howth Violin Project and St Peter’s Primary School in Phibsboro.
There are so many benefits to playing as part of an orchestra and at a festival such as the IAYO – developing a love of music, getting the opportunity to perform, learning how to play as part of a group, gaining confidence, making friends…
How did you become involved with youth orchestras and the festival?
I started playing the violin when I was 5 years of age and joined the Dublin Youth Orchestra Junior Strings when I was 10. I’ll never forget my first rehearsal in DYO and how exciting it was to get to play alongside other young musicians under the direction of the wonderful Vanessa Sweeney. Used to playing on my own, or with piano, I was thrilled to now be part of a team that consisted of violins, violas, cellos and double basses and I couldn’t believe the sounds and harmonies that we were able to create. Shortly afterwards, I became a member of the Royal Irish Academy of Music Intermediate Orchestra. Orchestra rehearsal became the highlight of my week and some of the friends that I made when I was 10 years old remain my best friends to this day.
Can you remember the first time you played at the festival?
The first time I played at IAYO Festival was a very special experience – I think I still have the programme from that night saved somewhere! It was a big deal for our young orchestra to be involved in such an important event. There was a high level of anticipation backstage, and walking out to a packed hall was a big moment for us all – we were about to perform on a stage that some of the world’s greatest musicians had also performed on! I also remember enjoying the other orchestras that I got to see on the day. I was inspired by the more advanced youth orchestras that I heard and vowed to practise hard so I that I would eventually get to play with an orchestra of their standard.
If you played there more than once, do you have a favourite festival?
My favourite IAYO festival that I got to play at was with the Junior National Youth Orchestra of Ireland when I was about 15. It was my very first performance with the NYOI and it was an exhilarating and inspiring experience to perform with an orchestra of such high standard on the stage of the National Concert Hall as part of the IAYO Festival.
What impact did the National Concert Hall have on you? Was it the first time you had played on such a big stage?
Every time I walk out on the National Concert Hall stage, I get a rush of adrenaline. I first had that feeling when I was 10 years old, and it continues to this day! Playing as part of the IAYO Festival was particularly exciting as the concerts were always packed and I loved having the experience of playing with my group for other youth orchestras from across the country.
Do you think this prepared you for future performances? How does the experience of performing then compare to now?
Being involved in such big performances from such a young age definitely prepared me for future performances, both in orchestras and playing solo. My confidence grew with every concert I did. I feel that such opportunities not only helped me musically, but also built my confidence in other parts of my life; with school work, presentations, public speaking, tests or exams, learning new skills etc.
Did being involved with the festival and with youth orchestras help with your career now?
Being involved with the festival and with youth orchestras most definitely helped with my career now. I teach in a number of strings projects in the Dublin area and work on a regular basis with both youth orchestras and adult amateur orchestras. I want to pass a love of music and performance on to my young students and I love to see how thrilled and excited they are when they have an opportunity to perform with their orchestra. The amazing times that I had playing with youth orchestras inspires me to continue doing that!
Are you still involved in the festival? If so, has it changed much since you played there?
Every year, some of my students get the chance to perform at the festival, and it’s always a big deal for them. I think the thrill and honour of performing at the IAYO festival has remained the same over the years.
What was the best thing about being involved in the festival?
The electric atmosphere of the festival has stayed with me to this day and I will always be grateful for the opportunities that it gave me. I think the IAYO and its festival is an invaluable organisation for music education in this country.
What do you see as being the most important aspect of youth orchestras on children?
And events like the festival on young players?
For me there is no one most important aspect; there are so many benefits of playing as part of an orchestra and at a festival such as the IAYO – Developing a love of music, getting the opportunity to perform, learning how to play as part of a group, gaining confidence, making friends …
Your Dad is conducting the festival orchestra, do you enjoy that side of it too?
My dad is as passionate about music education as I am, and that side of it is really nice. We often chat to each other about projects and repertoire and share ideas. I’m really grateful to my parents for getting me involved in music and for supporting me in everything I do ever since I started playing the violin nearly 25 years ago!