On Fireflys And Perfect Summers

On Fireflys And Perfect Summers

When I was a kid growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, there were two big events on hot summer days: the arrival of the ice cream man at dusk and then about an hour later, the trapping of fireflies in glass jars. When I was sixteen, I started working in the summers and haven’t stopped since. My children have a rather different life.

“How did it go?” I ask. “It was OK.” My 14-year-old daughter replies, just back from her fitting at Ardmore Studios and leaving me gagging for information.

“What’s your costume like?” – “It’s like a brownish-blackish bin bag with buttons,” she says, totally deadpan.

“So, what were the people like? Did you meet anyone famous?” – My daughter thinks this is a sad question. – “They’re all just normal people, Mom.” “I suppose they are,” I say. I quite like the notion of Jonathan Rhys Meyers being just normal people. I also wouldn’t be averse to running in to him at Ardmore Studios while he was having a costume fitting.

“So did you meet King Henry?” – “Who?” She is blasé. She is so comfortable in her role as a glorified extra that I fear she may have inherited the theater gene from certain members of the family. – “You know, Jonathan Rhys Meyers.” The name trips odd my tongue.

My daughter and her fellow choir singers at the Kingston Academy in Dún Laoghaire have been hired to sing religious music by Thomas Tallis for King Henry in what I gather is an extravagant court scene. – “Jonathan who?” she asks. – The really hot guy that’s the star of the show, I want to say, but I don’t. Hearing your mother call a younger man “hot” wouldn’t go down well.

“I was just wondering if you happened to meet Jonathan Rhys Meyers, that’s all.” – “Oh, him. He’s old, Mom.” – Too young for me, too old for her. What a tragedy. Aside from the chance of meeting the fabulous JRM, the real advantage to having your daughter in The Tudors is that it’s like free summer camp. She’s been in rehearsals for the past couple of weeks and tomorrow’s shooting of her scene has been on a deadline to aim for. Since school ended, I haven’t once heard her say “I’m bored.”

“I get paid,” she tells me. – “How much?” – “€18. Do we need it for the bills or can I keep it?” – “You can keep it,” I answer, I want her to buy herself something pretty. My eldest has been a brilliant unofficial au pair for the other two. When I come home in the evenings I find that she and her younger siblings have cleaned the kitchen and done laundry.

Apart from the younger daughter’s near-misses with JRM, the children’s daily highlights are walking the dogs and because the weather has been amazing, going for a swim down at Sandycove. Maybe if I could afford language courses and summer camps and sailing lessons they’d be more enriched, but I have a notion that being left to their own devices doesn’t hold them back at all. They’re lucky to live in such a lovely place in such beautiful weather.

But at the end of the week my eldest is going to France with a friend’s family. People who bring your kids on holiday are generous and it gives your teenager yet another experience of relative independence in a safe environment. She’s going to have a chance to speak French with locals, which will be great preparation for next year’s Leaving Cert, but we will all miss her. Every time she goes away, it’s like another little tendon of connection is being torn away. It has to happen. She has to grow up and she’s very good at growing up, but part of me still wants her to be a little girl in a flowery dress looking for bugs in the garden.

My son, meanwhile, is quite happy knocking a tennis ball around, with him as Roddick and me as Williams. Problem is, the balls keep flying out of the garden and into the neighbors, never to be found again. He’s also entertained by his iPod touch (given to him by his father who got it for free due to his 02 upgrade but he couldn’t figure out how to use it) and his Play Station.

I feel guilty for not indulging him with one enriching experience after the next but I can’t help thinking that the B-word (as in bored) is a good thing if it makes him pick up a book. Dad, meanwhile, is at his own summer camp this week in Bantry, teacher a screenwriting course. The only one without a summer camp is me. The Irish Times office is definitely not a summer camp these days, with the sun streaming through the windows that we can’t open. With kids at home that I would really rather be with than here, I feel like a trapped firefly.

The Tweenie Hitler … Oh Please

The Tweenie Hitler … Oh Please

Give me a break. My kids saw through Hannah Montana before I’d ever heard of her. The pseudo-conservative Christian morality, the hideous clothes, the bad music, the teenager being cute so she and her daddy can bag the cash.

You hear parents complaining about the money Hannah is costing them on themed products aimed at tweenies. The lunchbox, the clothes, the DVDs, the make-over, the neon eye shadow, the flavored lip-gloss, the duvet…I’m totally bored listening to parents moan about the premature sexualisation of children who move like lap-dancers at the age of six.

Parents who believe the old chestnut that commercial performers, such as Hannah Montana and her ilk (remember the uproar over the Spice Girls? Elvis?) is somehow responsible for their children’s materialism and eagerness to grow up too fast need to cop on. You helped create Hannah Montana, parents, since you pay her salary.

If you don’t want to spend money on her merchandise, then don’t. To hear some parents talk, you’d think Hannah was a tweenie Hitler spreading fascism of premature sexuality over which we are all powerless. If you spend money on Hannah, then you are willing participant in the premature sexualisation process, not to mention appalling music. It all comes down to the music, I think. I’m one of those old-fashioned people who believes that music is a participatory activity, not just a spectator sport. Music is a living, breathing, emotional thing that anyone can do but it does take effort and curiosity and dedication, which isn’t as bad as it sounds because learning is fun.

If you’ve heard Beyoncé’s tuneless efforts on YouTube before they processed her voice to sound as pretty as she looks, you realize the machine that churns out business models instead of musicians is so cynical about real music that Simon Cowell is saintly in comparison. Before electronic recording, you had to listen to a live performance in order to hear music. Before travel, the most beautiful music you would ever hear was played by your own family and friends. Music was a way to celebrate and a way to grieve – it was all about reaching and growing self – expression.

Children who grow up playing music still know this, which is why I don’t mind riding around in my 1999 recession-mobile as long as it means I can afford music lessons for my kids and the instruments they need to follow their hearts. I think their own experience of music is one of the reasons they saw through Hannah Montana and the materialism she represents. For them the choice between designer clothes and music lessons that contribute to the genuine pleasure of living music rather than just merely listening to it, is a no-brainer.

THE OTHER NIGHT, this all came home to me at the National Gallery, where the Kingston Academy, based in Dún Laoghaire, held its first annual recital, with its ethos of bringing music into museums. Performers ranged in age from young children, to the middle-aged and retirees who were rediscovering their childhood dreams of singing or playing instruments.

Audrey McKenna, who runs the academy, has an answer for people who hear beautiful music and say, “I wish I could do that”. “Why can’t you? Do it,” she says. – She and her teachers have a talent for pulling the music out of people of all ages and abilities and giving them confidence – whether they’re senior Feis Ceoil winners or beginners.

The teachers themselves put in extraordinary performances. Junshi Murakami is a master of the Irish harp and has played for the Emperor of Japan as gorgeously as he played a traditional Irish waltz and She Moved Through the Fair for us. We were spellbound by Jack Sherry’s and Michael Galen’s premier of their piano and guitar composition, Moleka. Sophie Ward’s Italian Concerto was superb – with the best performance of Back’s middle movement I’ve ever heard. Then scholarship student Regan Buckley, who can’t be quite 10 years old, sand Pie Jesu and we knew that we were hearing something really special, maybe even a future star tenor.

It was magical to hear real music from real people who were there not for money or fame. You can have this experience by participating in your local choir, or participating in an impromptu session in a pub or at a party. You can turn off your iPod and spend some time with your piano, your guitar, your voice and share what you discover with your family and friends. The original definition of “amateur” was a performer who made music or theater for the love of it, not for the money. And once you’ve discovered the joy of making music for music’s sake, well…it’s a little bit like falling in love. It lasts as long as it lasts, the length of a song or a poem and, maybe, it will never be heard again. But it’s so worth it. So thanks Audrey, for reminding us that we own the music. It’s ours. It doesn’t belong to Hannah.

Helping Mark A Music School’s Latest Move

Helping Mark A Music School’s Latest Move

Hugh Keenan helps to drum up excitement about the recent launch of Kingston Academy’s new premises, which was officially opened by An Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore. Hugh’s drumming skills were temporarily muted as the Tanaiste congratulated the music and art school on its latest development, which also marked its third anniversary – something for Hugh to make plenty of noise about.

Kingstown Academy recently celebrated its third anniversary at the launch of its new premises, located on Castle Street in Dalkey. The music school’s director, Audrey McKenna, welcomed An Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore, to the school.

Before he officially opened the school, the Tanaiste congratulated and praised Audrey and her team, and wished them well. An Tanaiste said that music, the arts and culture is “our soul, and very important in difficult times”.

Amongst those in attendance was Neil Keenan, president, DLR Chamber of Commerce, along with Hal Ledford; Councilor Marie Baker, FG; comedian Kevin Gildea, and numerous pupils and their families, who enjoyed the delightful music. The school offers a wide range of musical activities, along with the addition of various art courses.

Music Academy Hitting The Right Notes

Music Academy Hitting The Right Notes

Audrey McKenna, a music teacher for 20 years (photo), opened the Kingston Academy of Music in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin last September. The academy hosted its inaugural recital in the National Gallery of Ireland last month.

“Music has a great ability to distract one from day-to-day stresses,” said McKenna, who studied music at both undergraduate and postgraduate level in Maynooth, and was the first female president of Maynooth Music Society.

More recently, she headed the music department at Rathgar Junior School in Dublin, before launching a private teaching practice. “Working in this area for the past 20 years, I could see the demand and waiting lists for experienced and qualified tuition,” said McKenna.

With encouragement from students, parents and teachers, she identified south Dublin as the ideal location for an academy. After preparing a business plan, McKenna secured funding, and while a number of suitable premises were turned down at the last minute, a location was finally found at 45 Patrick Street. The Georgian building has high ceilings and large windows in every room. Each room now has an upright concert piano, and the percussion room has drum kits, an Irish harp, selection of guitars, violins and wind instruments.

There are nine teachers at the academy, with further recruitment planned for this year. The academy has students who range from three-year-old beginners to active retirement groups. Other pupils are Junior or Leaving Certificate students or business professionals taking time out. “Music is something that everybody can relate to and enjoy,” said McKenna. “Music has no barriers, and the joys that it brings are endless. It stimulates language and communication skills.”

McKenna’s immediate expansion plans include delivering corporate workshops with a focus on team building and communication. She is also in discussions with the local county council arts office to bring music to the wider community, and is hopeful of finding ways to work with local schools to increase their students’ exposure to all types of music. She is also seeking a local patron or sponsor to allow her to develop a bursary in the academy’s name. In the longer term, McKenna would like to expand the academy through additional openings in Dublin and the surrounding counties.

Tanaiste Opens Our New Premises

Tanaiste Opens Our New Premises

Tanaiste, Minister for Foreign Affairs and TD for the local constituency of DLR Eamon Gilmore, officiated at the official opening of the new Kingston Academy of Music in Dalkey this

afternoon. The story of success of the Kingston Academy in these recessionary times is an example of Irish resilience, determination and positive attitude. Ms Audrey McKenna, Director and owner of the Academy has demonstrated these characteristics in growing her business, creating employment and bringing joy and a sense of achievement to hundreds of children and adults. When asked how she felt about the new School in Dalkey she said:

“I believe that we all have a responsibility both in business and in a private capacity to utilize any Personal Reserves and approach these challenging times with optimism and enthusiasm. This is what we have had to do in the Kingston Academy of Music. Having started from humble beginnings three years ago we are now, through hard work and dedication, opening our new premises on Castle Street, Dalkey, three years on. We are all delighted.”

Speaking at today’s launch, Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore TD, a long time supporter of the Academy, said that he was very honored to officially open the new premises and that: “What Audrey has done in such a short space of time is really wonderful. Music, Arts and Culture are our soul and they have sustained us through difficult times and will sustain us for sometime to come. It is a privilege to be here today and I believe we will all look back with great pride as Audrey and the Academy go from strength to strength.”

The Kingston Academy of Music employ 15 full time music teachers and support staff as well as fifteen further reserve teachers and cater for over 200 families of multiple musical and visual arts disciplines.