What is the reality of Irish musical life today?

Placing the entire seven years of JMI on the world wide web – and free to view – has been fascinating for myself as editor. There are many articles worth revisiting and I hope readers will take the time to wander through the over 500 articles so far. One particular phrase that leaped out at me appears in Frank Heneghan’s article on the MEND Report from JMI Sept-Oct 2002 (http://www.thejmi.com/article/107).

Mr Heneghan quotes from the oft-cited 1985 Deaf Ears? report on music education, describing as chilling its statement that ‘the young Irish person has the worst of all European musical worlds. Deaf Ears?, written by Donald Herron and published by the Arts Council, is a mainly statistical report on music education. It is often mentioned, in passing, as one of the many reports that have been ignored over the years, leading to our situation today where there is no formal state provision of music education.

This comment from 1985 caught my attention, however, because that was the year I started music lessons. True, in the town of Bray, I did not know more than a handful of other children in school learning a musical instrument – never mind learning traditional fiddle, as I was. However, two years later, I was sent to the Willie Clancy Summer School in Co. Clare where I discovered thousands of children learning traditional music. Thinking back to that experience, it is extraordinary to describe Irish children in the 1980s as having ‘the worst of all European musical worlds’ when we had access to this hugely vibrant cultural scene.

Traditional Irish music is of course basically ignored in Deaf Ears?, apart from a brief mention of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. However, this is not the most important point, for such were the views of officialdom at that time. The point is that we are still trying to build a movement for state provision of music education for children, and we have to consider what building-blocks we are using to back up this movement. Perhaps these reports were ignored because they did not resonate with the reality, and thus did not capture anybody’s imagination? What is the reality of Irish musical life today in its totality? I still haven’t read a report that captures it.

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