In 1983, Regina O Leary and Peggy Carey, two teachers in the newly formed St Canice’s Co-Ed N.S. acquired half a dozen violins and recorders, and established, what is now, the instrumental music programme in the Kilkenny school. From its humble beginnings, the programme expanded rapidly over the years with the acquisition of more instruments, more music teachers and an ever-increasing number of enthusiastic students! The first school orchestra was formed in the mid 80’s and had its first win at Feis Ceoil in 1988. In the 1990s, due to the popularity of the programme, a second school orchestra was formed and brass and wind instruments were introduced for the first time. In 2006 Eamon Cahill founded the first jazz band, offering the young players the opportunity to play a different type of music.
Today St Canice’s N.S, the largest national school in the county, is a vibrant co-educational primary school with over 600 pupils. The ethos of the programme is ‘Music for all’ and the music programme currently caters for over 400 children with every child in the school given the opportunity to play a musical instrument. Sixteen music teachers provide tuition in wind, string, and brass instruments as well as piano, vocal, pre-instrumental and music theory. The programme now has two orchestras, (senior and junior), two jazz bands (senior and junior) and a number of chamber music ensembles. Over two hundred children are involved in the combined orchestras and jazz bands. There is also an adult music programme with over thirty adults involved in violin and cello tuition. A very active Parents Committee is also involved in administration and fundraising for the programme on an on-going basis. We also receive great support and encouragement from our principal Maria Comerford.
The school’s musicians have had many successes over the past thirty years. Since first winning the Peter Killian Cup at Feis Ceoil in 1988, St Canice’s Orchestra has gone on to win the prestigious award a record breaking twenty two times, as well as many victories at the Arklow Music Festival, Kilkenny Music Festival and the Wesley College Inter-Schools Music Festival. The orchestra has also performed four times at the IAYO Festival of Youth Orchestras at the National Concert Hall, most recently in 2012, which is a tremendous achievement for a national school orchestra. Individual musicians have also enjoyed great success at the Kilkenny Music Festival and Feis Ceoil over the years. St. Canice’s A Orchestra was particularly honoured to perform for President Mary McAleese during her visit to the school in 2007. The programme has also featured on national media in recent years. In 2008 the Jazz Band appeared on the “Late Late Toy Show”. St. Canice’s musicians have also appeared on RTE’ s “Big Big Bazaar” and “Kazoo” programmes. RTE have also just completed filming of the Senior Orchestra in action at the school for a 16 part television series for children entitled “Meet the Orchestra”.
The Instrumental Music Programme has been recognised nationally and has received many awards over the years, from the Pushkin Educational award in 1994, the AIB Better Ireland Award in 1998 to the IAYO Award for Organisational Achievement in 2004 and 2007. In February 2014, Regina O’Leary accepted a Special Achievement Award from the Irish Association of Youth Orchestras (IAYO) in recognition of 30 years of music by St Canice’s Instrumental Music Programme. Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald, presented Regina with the award onstage at the annual Festival of Youth Orchestras Concert at the National Concert Hall in recognition of the contribution the music programme has made to the development of youth orchestras.
The programme has collaborated with many organisations over the years such as Camerata Ireland, Royal Irish Academy Junior Strings, Sligo School of Music, Cork School of Music, DYO Junior Strings and ConCorda. Children also regularly attend the IAYO Chamber Music Workshops for young musicians. The IMP has also held many excellent workshops down through the years with the Apple Hill players from America, James Kavanagh from the Royal Irish Academy, and conductor Fergus Sheil. In 2012 the orchestras and jazz band performed with the renowned Churchlands Senior High School Orchestra, from Perth, Western Australia. The music programme is very proud of its past pupils, many of whom have gone on to play in the National Youth Orchestra, the National Youth Symphony Orchestra of Ireland and the European Union Youth Orchestra.
The number of children participating in the programme continues to increase each year, despite the economic climate, and is a testament to the value that parents place upon their children’s participation in the programme. Thousands of children over the past thirty years have been given the opportunity to play and enjoy music and this is surely the greatest tribute one could pay to this Kilkenny based programme.