“We have 26 different rural schools in our orchestra. We only have 80 in our orchestra so that will tell you the scattering of areas that are benefiting from having at its focal point, an orchestra in Charleville,” says Susie Butler, Director and Principal of Musica Fusion, School of Music in this buzzing north Cork town.

An orchestra may sound quite grand, but this orchestra originated with a different purpose than most of the grander ensembles. It was established in 2015 by Susie, a classical guitarist and double bassist and her daughter Sophie, also a double bassist and composer.

“It is about reaching out and getting classical music to the ears and fingers of children who might not have had this opportunity because they are not living near the bigger cities,” Susie tells Irish Country Living.

Voluntary led and run

In order to reach as many music-playing children as possible, Susie made this a voluntary led and run orchestra.

“It is hard enough for parents to afford a music lesson, not to mind paying for something like an orchestra,” she explains.

“So, when I set this up, that was my whole thing: no matter where I found the money from, we weren’t going to make it a financial obstacle that in order to become a classical musician or that in order to be in an orchestra you have to have money?

“If you do have a voluntary donation of €3 that is brilliant and if you don’t, you don’t and that is the end of it. Money should never be a factor for learning music.”

The Musica Fusion Community Orchestra meet up on a Friday afternoon. Anyone from age five to 18 who can either play an instrument or who is getting lessons in their own area is welcome to join. Susie credits the voluntary spirit of the adults involved in making this work; from the parents who help out in the background to the teachers who volunteer their time on a Friday afternoon to help the participants.

“Aisling Lineen, Abby Ní Loinsigh, Jacob Butler, Ashley Moyser and Kirsten Corbett are music teachers in my school and they make sure the participants are able to play the music and they orchestrate music for them,” acknowledges Susie.

Most families have a good half hour of a drive, with the alternative to drive to Limerick or Cork city. Susie estimates that 40% of the families are from a farming background and this comes in to play according to the time of year.

Susie Butler conducting

“People who are from a farming background, their time is dictated by what is happening at home and they really appreciate having only to drive as far as Charleville.”

Membership of the orchestra is also diverse with lots of children from families who have chosen to make Ireland their home.

“When the children come in the door here on a Friday, they are all from different schools. So, they are gaining friends. They know children from all over the area, not just their own school. It is a very social thing,” explains Susie.

The Enya Magic

With a 10,000 square foot rehearsal space upstairs in an old cinema, Susie admits they have the perfect venue. Enya was so impressed by the calibre of this group that Susie tells us she kindly gave a generous donation. This donation paid for percussion equipment such as timpani and bass drums.

“Timpani are extraordinarily expensive big round drums, normally you have four of them,” describes Susie.

“They are out of the grasp of most orchestras but we are able to have them because of the generosity of Enya.”

In addition to these drums, the orchestra have violins, violas, cellos, double bass, trumpets, trombones, clarinets and flutes. With such a range, many people acknowledge that being involved in such a group is the equivalent of being part of a sports team; everyone has their position and comes together for the greater good.

World Premiere

Last month, everyone involved in the orchestra came together for an important performance, premiering “Through the Ages” at the Annual Festival of Youth Orchestras at the National Concert Hall, Dublin.

Written by the school’s creative writing class, this poem is an interpretation of our journey through life from birth to death. This was then handed over to the orchestra composition group, who under the tutelage of Sophie Butler, worked out the musical passages, mostly over zoom calls.

Once that was complete, the orchestra got to work rehearsing and parents began organising buses, food and the logistics behind the excursion.

Sophie, who is currently based in Glasgow made the trip home for the weekend and took to the podium to conduct the “team.”

Susie estimates ‘Through the Ages’ took almost two years from conception to premiere and without the volunteerism of everyone involved, could not have happened.

They may be coming together for the music, but children and adults of the Charleville hinterland are staying involved because of this unique opportunity available to them in the Golden Vale.

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