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Mairéad Duffy is a musician, composer, singer/songwriter and music educator. She currently works as Music Development Officer for Music Generation Cavan / Monaghan for Music Generation, Ireland’s National Music Education Programme that transforms the lives of children and young people through access to high quality performance music education in their locality. You can hear some of Mairéad's music here.
I can honestly say that my first encounter with Musical Futures was life-changing. Why? It was the first time I had actually felt like a musician on a CPD day. That’s really sad, seeing as all I ever wanted to ‘do’ was music. I never sat down and planned to be a teacher. I imagine my journey is shared by many. I got a job before my PGCE ended and thought to myself, ‘how lucky am I?’ And that was the beginning of it, when I started to define and describe myself as a teacher rather than a musician, and as I reflect on that now, it makes me sad.
Don’t get me wrong. I think I was a good teacher back then, well, as good as you can be when you are fresh off a PGCE and still wet behind the ears. You learn on the job, as we all do/did. Lots of happy years passed, with lots of great music-making, both inside and outside of the classroom. I followed my passions: learning more about the voice and developing my choral and directing skills.
And then, in November 2012, I attended my first Musical Futures training in a wee place somewhere outside Belfast. I remember the time of year, as I was heading to London that evening to celebrate my sister’s 30th birthday. I remember Seamas and Sarah, from Donegal and Derry, who led the day. I remember sitting behind a drum kit for the first time in my life, giving it a go, with a very real chance of making a complete mess of it, but feeling exhilarated and challenged and nervous and a wee bit self-conscious-when it came to sharing my/our musical offerings. That marked the beginning of me being able to understand what it feels like for a young person when I ask them to do something that they might have little or no experience of. I discovered the joy of making music in a group-because as a pianist growing up I never had the chance to.
And then the magic began. I became part of a group of teachers who wanted to try or were already trying these ‘new’ approaches in the classroom. I got the opportunity to develop my love of singing and inclusive vocal approaches on the ‘Find my Voice’ pilot. I introduced a programme of work which connected our school musically with local feeder primary schools. I developed relationships with the teachers responsible for music in the primary school and got to share the approaches with them.
My school hosted a day of training, which attracted teachers from as far away as Dublin-my school was in Co. Tyrone. Some of my senior students got to lead sessions on a band carousel. I felt like a rock star playing the bass riff from ‘Seven Nation Army’. I got to beat box-well, attempt to, in a really cool nightclub venue in London. I got to see Shlomo do stuff with his larynx that I still cannot fathom. The list goes on and on and I know that the list cannot do justice to the joy all of these opportunities brought me.
My life is a little different now. I am currently on a career break from the classroom but am still very much involved in music-making with young people. I got to re-connect with the Musical Futures team in Galway in July 2019 and what a joy that was. (I know there is a lot of ‘joy’ in this piece, but it really is the only word that fits for me). Making music once again, embracing multi genres and instruments and voices, being creative, having the craic with a diverse group of musicians and coming musically alive again.
Musical Futures has given me so much. If I had to select what stands out, it is the fact that the approaches have enabled me to empower the young people that I work with, regardless of the setting. It has also allowed me to confidently bring the musician that I am into the space. And, for better or worse, I am unable to listen to a piece of popular/contemporary music without de-constructing it and building it back up vocally!
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