Calum O’Donnell

Six o’clock, the moment my alarm went off I was awake. I had been waiting months for this day to arrive. I was going to be playing in the National Concert Hall!

I was dressed and ready in a flash. We had packed our bags with water and snacks for the bus the night before, so all we had to do was have a quick breakfast before leaving for Ballincollig . It takes 45 minutes to reach Ballincollig from our house so we had to leave quickly if we were going to be on time for the bus, which was leaving at 8:00. My Dad,brother and I bundled ourselves into the car, as we left the house I couldn’t help but feel nervous about the day ahead .

We reached Ballincollig at 7:45 just as the bus pulled up. I was glad we were early as it took a while to load up everything and I wanted a good seat! The cellos took particularly long to load up, thankfully they were going in the boot! The journey was long but we had great craic together, everyone was in a good mood and really excited about the day ahead.

Four hours and a couple of singsongs later the massive sprawl of buildings that is Dublin came into view, that’s when everyone really became excited. As we pulled up behind the National Concert Hall, Helen, our conductor arrived. We all quickly grabbed our instruments and bags, eager to see the building that was Ireland’s premier music venue.

From behind it looked like any old building: unappealing compared to the massive office blocks further down the street, but once we were inside we realised how significant this building really was. As we walked through the labyrinth of corridors to our dressing room we saw countless posters from concerts held here in the past. It seemed surreal that in a few short hours I would be playing on the very same stage as multiple world famous orchestras and musicians.

I had no time to waste though, we needed to hurry up if we were to be on time for our practise. As we made our way towards the stage we passed many massive instruments; I saw harps, double basses and grand pianos. As we walked onstage I got my first view of inside the National Concert Hall. Until then I had never seen the hall itself as it was completely hidden backstage. It was amazing, two levels of seats stood before me. The roof was held up by massive columns, above the stage stood an enormous organ it was magnificent, painted green with golden pipes.

As we practised it all began to sink in. As I sat there I still struggled to believe that the CCSM junior orchestra was going to have full control of this stage, even if only for fifteen minutes. By the time we had finished it had gone two. We had to leave quickly as the concert was due to start at 3:00 and some orchestras still hadn’t got a chance to rehearse.

We spent the remaining time until the concert started in the dressing room. It seemed like only five minutes until Helen was telling us to get ready that “the concert is going to begin in 10 minutes!”. We were going to open the concert so we had to be ready quickly.

The next few minutes went in a blur and before I knew it the entire orchestra was onstage and moments away from starting. As Helen lifted her baton my heart began to race, this was it. Months of preparation and countless hours of practise was coming down to this. We opened the concert with a bang and only a few seconds seemed to have passed when our first song finished. Before I knew it the final bar of Thriller had passed and it was all over. Everyone clapped, Helen bowed and we all got up and left. Hannah and I stayed on stage for an interview with the compere. He asked us questions about the orchestra and what it was like playing in a big orchestra compared to the smaller orchestras at the centres where we learn.

After the interview we returned to the dressing room, like with the rest of the day time flew and after the interval we went up to the choir balcony to see the rest of the concert. Most of the other orchestras were larger youth orchestras but as we all agreed it’s ‘quality not quantity’. The concert finished at five, Helen and our leader Emma went onstage and got a rose along with the other conductors and leaders.

Most people left after this but a few others including me stayed to see the later concert at 8:00. We went for food at the Russell Court Hotel. By the time we had finished it had gone seven and we needed to rush back to the concert hall. My brother, father and I went to visit our aunt and cousins instead as we rarely get to visit them.

At a quarter to ten we left our aunts house and headed back to the concert hall to catch the bus home. The concert was late and didn’t finish till half ten so we stayed in the lobby and had a drink. Even the lobby was lavishly decorated, a massive chandelier hung from the ceiling, there was a grand staircase leading to the balcony seats and a huge grand piano stood in the corner.

As soon as the concert ended we got on the bus, we still had a long journey ahead! Most people went back with their parents but some people like my brother and I took the bus home. It was half one in the morning when we arrived in Ballincollig. By the time I got home it was half two!

I was wrecked after it all but I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Thank you Helen, Conor & Yvonne .

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