by Judy Murphy, The Connacht Tribune
The sound of music will echo through every nook and cranny of Claregalway Castle from August 5th–10th when leading classical performers from orchestras all over the world come to Ireland to share their knowledge and talent with students and amateur musicians.
The Summer Music in Galway/Summer Music on the Shannon programs, which is now in its 20th year, set up home in Claregalway Castle last year, when invited to do so by its owner Eamonn O’Donoghue.
The relationship has proven so successful that the event is returning next month and it’s hard to imagine a more suitable setting for a music school and festival than this restored 15th century De Burgo building.
I believe in the value of music as an active occupation—for young people to learn how to play and be involved, to give them the the passion and to get them to be performers.
Canadian-born musician and teacher Robert Creech, who is the driving force behind Summer Music School and Festival has “been involved in this sort of thing for a half a century”, he explains.
Bob taught at the University of British Columbia and was music director (1970–1985) of the Comox Valley Youth Music Camp on Vancouver Island which is now in its 40th year.
As a horn player, he performed in orchestras across Canada including Victoria, Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Toronto, and the CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra. He was principal horn with the Vancouver Symphony and performed an recorded widely as a soloist in Canada and the US.
In 1991 Bob became chief executive of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society in England in 1991, overseeing the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Choir, Philharmonic Hall and Merseyside Youth Orchestra. Since moving to Ireland in the 1980s, he has founded and steered this summer school, fuelled by a desire to let music students and amateur to let music students and amateur performers experience the best classical music the world can offer—and in a way that allows them to perform.
“I believe in the value of music as an active rather than a passive occupation—for young people to learn how to play and be involved, to give them the passion and to get them to be performers,” he explains.
With this in mind, Bob annually invites performers from the world’s top orchestras to come to Ireland where they teach music to young people and also perform with them.
“The idea is to bring professionals, students and amateurs together so that young people have an idea of the standard that can be achieved,” Bob explains.
The Summer Music School welcomes musicians of all ages and abilities and has two remits. One is to cater for students who play orchestral instruments including piano, the other is to nurture those who want to get involved in youth open theatre.
Events at the annual school include a series of performances “where beginners will sit right beside professionals and there are parts for everybody”, he says.
“We’ve had musicians from 18 of the top orchestras in the world including Berlin, London, Oslo, Montreal and Chicago, because they believe in the ethos of this school.”
For those participating in the orchestral section, this year’s highlight will be an afternoon performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, where everybody will have a role. For the Youth Opera Theatre, the public performance is The Green Children by composer Nicola LeFanu with libretto by Kevin Crossley-Holland, which was first produced in Ireland by the Summer Music School in 2004. Claregalway Castle is the venue for both.
The opera has a large variety of parts for both young singers and musicians, and it also has a message about tolerance, about growing up, coming to terms with death, and about love, friendship and a shared language, says Bob. And it’s very accessible.
“The Youth Opera Theatre is the one programme you can take any child to, with a bit of encouragement from their parents, and get them performing,” he remarks.
Bob developed the opera programme in the last decade, after the Summer Music School won an AIB Better Ireland award of €25,000 in 2001. That money was used as seed funding and since then they’ve had an opera every year, he says.
The Summer Music School attracts students from all over the world, although the last few years have been difficult because of the recession, Bob says.
There is no audition process but people must send us a detailed application form. As the idea is to make the programme as inclusive as possible, bursaries and grants are available.
Fees vary from €100 from juniors to €350 for adults. Those attending opera workshops must sign up for a month—it’s not possible to rehearse a production in less time, says Bob.
Meanwhile, the instrumental part of the programme is two weeks, from July 29th to August 10th. with the first week being in Ennis and the second in Galway. Musicians from seven international orchestras will take part this year, and students have an option of attending masterclasses in orchestral instruments and classes.
The Summer Music School and Festival began in Ennis in 1994, after Bob and his wife moved to West Clare and he saw a need for such an event. The response was excellent and as response grew it moved to University of Limerick. It was first held in Galway in 2010 when there were problems with space in UL and NUIG offered to accommodate it. Then it moved to Claregalway Castle, which Bob hopes will become its permanent home.
Eamonn O’Donoghue, who has painstakingly restored this castle and recreated all its period detail, has always loved music. He always felt that while Claregalway Castle was also used for defence purposes in the Middle Ages, it was built primarily as a centre of hospitality and that was his aim in restoring it. A couple of years ago he was chatting to a friend John Horgan, who also knows Bob, and John asked Eamonn what he’s most like to host in the castle.
“I said ‘when we have our first opera here, I’ll know the ship is afloat’,” recalls Eamonn with a laugh. John Horgan put the two men in touch and last year that dram came true when Mendelssohn;s Midsummer Night’s Dream wasstaged there.
“It was beyond my wildest dreams last year to have free concerts at the castle, to have the kids outside skimming stones and having fun, while also getting tutelage from top people in music and then to have opera in the evenings.” says Eamonn.
The event is run on a shoestring, with support from the Arts Council while Clare County Council and Galway City Council have also given their backing. The two men would love to see more people get involved on a voluntary basis as organising the school and stewarding the concerts is a labour intensive process.
Local music Aine Kelly from Athenry took part in last year’s Summer School—it offered her an opportunity to play with top musicians, she says. “Bob provides the platform with all these wonderful, international musicians who are terribly nice people. We all get together and play music intensely for a two-week period.”
She played in various musical formations last year, from quartets to orchestras and after that Bob approaches her to know if some of her students wanted to participate in the Summer School. Aine has formed a junior and senior chamber group from her pupils and works with these on a voluntary basis. He gave her a piece of music from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to teach to the children and they’ll join forces with students from other schools, who have undergone the same exercise, during the Summer School.
Then he suggested the possibility of a concert in Athenry and she has played a major role in organising the event in Raheen Woods, which is open to the public.
“Bob is so passionate about the whole event and it’s such a platform for the students. When would they get a chance to do something like this otherwise?”
More information on the school and volunteer opportunities at
wwwsummermusicingalway.com or phone 065 7087566