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  • Writer's pictureDaithí and Adèle

Music Education Matters

For our first blog of 2020, we are enthused to reflect on the 9th Annual Conference of the Society for Music Education, 24-25 January 2020. Held in association with the DCU Institute of Education, the conference brought together a wide range of speakers and practitioners to share ideas, research and reflections on different aspects of music education. We were delighted to present on projects in which we are involved, namely the DkIT Ceol Oirghialla Traditional Music Ensemble, the Oriel Traditional Orchestra and Oidhreacht Eochaille.

There was a great buzz in the foyer of the new Library on the St. Patrick’s campus in Drumcondra as old friends and familiar faces collided in anticipation of news, ideas and like-minded conversations. It is always difficult to chose which sessions to attend and unfortunately this blog cannot do justice to the range of papers and presentations at the conference, but we are delighted to reflect on a few.

First up was a presentation by Zoe Dionyssiou from Ionian University. Focusing on music for babies and early years, an area that both of us have lectured in, Zoe not only introduced us to Greek traditional and contemporary singing games but demonstrated how they were linked to musical enculturation and self-development amongst children in Greece. While we may not be singing Greek anytime soon, we might consider new ways of approaching singing games both in the classroom and in other contexts.

Daithí shared a session with Dr John O’Flynn from DCU, whose paper on the historical study of vocal and choral music at St Patrick’s College Drumcondra from 1883-2016 resonated very well with Daithí’s paper on the DkIT Ceol Oirghialla Traditional Music Ensemble. John’s paper highlighted the important role that St Pat’s played in developing musical culture in Drumcondra and how their experience of music at St Pat’s endowed students with valuable experiences that they took with them in their future careers. There were many notable names who performed at the college, while John also touched on some of the developments in curriculum. Teacher training students played an important role in church and community choirs, collecting folk music and other musical endeavours in Ireland and this has been under-regarded to date. We purchased a copy of the new book Ceol Phádraig: Music at St Patrick's College Drumcondra, 1875-2016 from John following his paper and have enjoyed the well-written compilation of essays it contains.

Daithí’s paper critically reflected on the development and activities of the DkIT Ceol Oirghialla Traditional Music Ensemble between 2011 and 2019, informed by a number of other studies concerning ethnomusicology and ensembles in Higher Education (Kruger, 2009; Solis, 2004; Talty, 2019). Linking to other research that we have conducted or are engaged in, it was interesting to reflect on the themes that emerged including a focus on the music of Michael Coleman, consideration of musical mobility across the Atlantic, connections with Scotland and Scottish musical traditions and processes of regionalization in Irish traditional music (Kearney, 2009; 2012; 2013; 2018) with a focus on the Oriel region and the music of counties Louth, Monaghan and Armagh (Commins, 2019; Crawford, 2019; McElwain, 2014). Daithí also noted the involvement of Josephine Keegan and Brian O’Kane and we look forward to forthcoming publications about these figures and their music in the near future.

Adèle presented in a session focused on Irish music along with Avril McLoughlin from the University of Limerick and Mary Nugent from Marino Institute of Education. Informed by recent literature on Applied Ethnomusicology (Pettan and Titon, 2015; Higgins and Shehan Cambell, 2015), Adèle provided insights into some of the activities of the Oriel Traditional Orchestra and Ceolta Sí, demonstrating the potential for researchers at academic institutions to engage with communities and bring their research and creative arts practice to life. We enjoy the continuing success of the Oriel Traditional Orchestra and look forward to the launch on the 22 February 2020 of Oidhreacht Eochaille by Ceolta Sí and Craobh Eochaille CCÉ, which features a number of tunes and songs composed and arranged by us and inspired by the heritage and folklore of east Cork.

Avril McLoughlin’s paper focused on the use of music theory in relation to Irish traditional music, drawing on her experience of teaching in Higher Education. She advocated for the use of music theory to gain an understanding of how and why we play and listen to music. Continuing a subcurrent that sought to diminish a perceived disconnect between different genres and traditions of music, Mary Nugent reflected on the experiences of Irish students who are simultaneously engaged in the study of Western Art and Irish traditional music and how this shaped their perceptions, beliefs and practices. Building on the work of Goran Folkestad (2006), Mary’s paper drew a neat circle back to Daithí’s earlier paper and conceptually connected the earlier session with this one.

The keynote at this year’s conference was presented by Patricia Shehan Campbell, whose talk on World Music Pedagogy as a Pathway to Intercultural Understanding drew on her own teaching experience and publications, most notably World Music Pedagogy (Bartolome et al, 2018), which we look forward to engaging with. Shehan Campbell highlighted the importance of music education and, in particular, ethnomusicology, in an ever-changing world challenged by political and social upheaval and climate change. She challenged us to support students to grow more widely and deeply musical, as well as more culturally compassionate.

The 2020 recipient of Honorary Life Membership was Sr Bernadette Sweeney of St Agnes Community Centre for Music and the Arts. A former school principal, Sr Bernadette undertook training in Kodaly and experienced music education internationally before establishing a music programme in Crumlin whereby all 400 students in St Agnes’ Primary School learn violin. In her inspiring address to attendees, Sr Bernadette outlined her philosophy and reminded us of the wide-ranging benefits of engaging in and providing opportunities for music education. She emphasized the importance of getting people to relate at a human level and, once this is done, music and the arts will emerge.

One of the nicest aspects of all of the SMEI conferences from the first conference in Cork has been the inclusion of musical performances and this conference was no different. The first was presented by Presto Project, an El Sistema inspired project in Dublin. Their final choral number was especially uplifting and demonstrated the enthusiasm of the children involved. St Columba’s National School Choir from Glasnevin have participated successfully in competitions in recent years and they performed following the presentation of Honorary Life Membership of the SMEI to Sr Bernadette Sweeney. On Saturday a performance by Headford Music Works from Galway followed a talk by its director about the project leading to an orchestral celebration of Headford Lace. Mairéad informed us of the process, from introducing students of HMW to the unique heritage of lacemaking in Headford, followed by workshops in composition and arranging in order to compose a short orchestral piece. After the keynote address by Patricia Shehan Campbell, Daithí joined DCU lecturer Marie Louise Bowe and fellow musicians Martin O’Connell (another Kerryman) and Tony Byrne for a few tunes on the stage, before this spilled out into a session in the foyer with some of the other attendees.

The AGM of the SMEI at the 2020 Conference brought to an end Adèle’s term on the committee, which had followed a term by Daithí. Well done to Regina Murphy and her team at DCU and to Lorraine O’Connell and the SMEI Executive Committee on organizing a stimulating conference. We look forward to next year’s conference but, in the meantime, are delighted to be continuing our journey in music education and the rich experiences that we enjoy along the way.


Bartolome, S.J., Beegle, A.C., Campbell, P.S., Coppola, W.J., Howard, K., Kelley, J., Lum, C.H., Mena, C., Montemayor, M., Roberts, J.C. and Watts, S.H., 2018. World Music Pedagogy. Routledge.

Buckley, J.; O'Flynn, J (eds). Ceol Phádraig: Music at St Patrick's College Drumcondra, 1875-2016. Dublin and Bern: Carysfort/Peter Lang.

Commins, Adèle. ‘Rory Kennedy: A Musical Hero’ Clár: Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2019. Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.

Crawford, Sylvia. 2019. Towards the Potential Role of a Neglected Eighteenth-Century Harper in Cultural Tourism in the Oriel Region. Unpublished MA Dissertation, Dundalk Institute of Technology.

Folkestad, Göran. "Formal and informal learning situations or practices vs formal and informal ways of learning." British Journal of Music Education 23.2 (2006): 135-145.

Higgins, Lee and Patricia Shehan Campbell, 2015, "Intersections between ethnomusicology, music education, and community music." In Pettan and Titon (eds), pp. 638-688.

Kearney D. 2012. ‘Beyond location: The relevance of regional identities in Irish traditional music’. Sonas. 33(1):1-20.

Kearney D. 2013. ‘Regions, regionality and regionalization in Irish traditional music: the role of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann’ . Ethnomusicology Ireland. 2:72-94.

Kearney D. 2018. Listening for Tradition: Contributing to a Regional Musical Identity through Higher Education Research. Musicology Research. 4(2):424.

Kruger, Simone. Experiencing ethnomusicology: Teaching and learning in European universities. Routledge, 2017.

McElwain, Seán. Opening up the canon of Irish traditional music - the music of the Sliabh Beagh region of north Monaghan / east Fermanagh. Unpublished PhD Dissertation, Dundalk Institute of Technology, 2014.

Pettan, Svanibor, and Jeff Todd Titon. The Oxford Handbook of Applied Ethnomusicology. Oxford University Press, 2015.

Solís, Ted, ed. Performing ethnomusicology: Teaching and representation in world music ensembles. University of California Press, 2004.

Talty, Jack. The Ivory tower and the commons: exploring the institutionalisation of Irish traditional music in Irish higher education (discourse, pedagogy and practice). Unpublished PhD Dissertation, University of Limerick, 2019.

Conference Papers Referenced:

Berrill, Mairead, ‘Interlace: An Orhcestral Celebration of Headford Lace’, Society for Music Education in Ireland Annual Conference, 24-25 January 2020, Dublin City University.

Commins, Adèle and Daithí Kearney, ‘New notes: Sharing research and practice with the Oriel Traditional Orchestra and Ceolta Sí’, Society for Music Education in Ireland Annual Conference, 24-25 January 2020, Dublin City University.

Dionyssiou, Zoe, ‘Ways of approaching Greek traditional and contemporary singing games in music education settings’, Society for Music Education in Ireland Annual Conference, 24-25 January 2020, Dublin City University.

Kearney, Daithí and Adèle Commins, ‘Gone in Jig Time: A Critical Study of the DkIT Traditional Music Ensemble’, Society for Music Education in Ireland Annual Conference, 24-25 January 2020, Dublin City University.

McLoughlin, Avril, ‘Exploring language and codes of Irish traditional music’, Society for Music Education in Ireland Annual Conference, 24-25 January 2020, Dublin City University.

Nugent, Mary, ‘Framing learning musics: A classical-traditional Irish music perspective’, Society for Music Education in Ireland Annual Conference, 24-25 January 2020, Dublin City University.

O’Flynn, John, ‘Vocal and choral music at St Patrick’s College Drumcondra, 1883-2016’, Society for Music Education in Ireland Annual Conference, 24-25 January 2020, Dublin City University.

Shehan Campbell, Patricia, ‘World Music Pedagogy as Pathway to Intercultural Understanding’, Society for Music Education in Ireland Annual Conference, 24-25 January 2020, Dublin City University.

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