Interview: Aisling Ahern (Member of Harp Ensemble)

Interview to Aisling Ahern on 10 September 2020.
Aisling is 19 years old and the member of Music Generation Laois Harp Ensemble.

➖ Could you tell us how you got into playing a harp, and what brought you to learn a harp at Music generation Laois?

I began playing harp when I was 12, I attended weekly lessons at a local primary school with Claire O’Donnell. When I went into secondary school the next year, I began lessons after school with Siobhan Buckley. Later on, Siobhan started a harp ensemble and I immediately jumped at the chance of being involved. The number of harpers involved kept growing and growing and so did the opportunities to perform together.

➖ Could you tell us what kind of lessons you’re taking, the contents of lessons and your feelings and opinions about the lessons at Music Generation Laois? How do you think about Music Generation Laois as a whole?

Every Wednesday I attended my half an hour lesson, followed by our weekly harp ensemble lesson which lasted an hour. We usually learned a tune every week, mainly by ear as Siobhan would play a line of music and we would repeat it. We always had a great time in these lessons and learned a lot in a short amount of time. Music Generation Laois provides a platform for young people to experience and learn music in an enjoyable setting. They allow people to discover different musical styles and become better musicians. They offer numerous opportunities for young people to perform together at interesting events and locations. Joining the harp ensemble with Music Generation Laois was a brilliant decision because of the opportunities I’ve had and the friends I’ve made along the way.

➖ What music do you like the best? What is the content of the piece? Why do you like it?

My favourite piece to play is usually the one I’m learning at that time. I love to learn old irish tunes like O’Carolans Cottage and Madam Maxwell but I also really enjoy playing different styles of music on the harp. One of my favourites would be the jazz piece, New Blues which sounds extremely different on the harp.

➖ What is your favorite class in your school? What is the contents and why do you like it?

I have just finished secondary school and will be starting in college at the end of September. For the past 6 years I have attended Scoil Chríost Rí, Portlaoise. My favourite class was Irish because it’s such a beautiful language to learn. Irish isn’t commonly spoken in everyday life but I believe it’s essential to learn our native language. The classes were always engaging even though the subject was difficult.

➖ What do you like to do apart from playing a harp?

Playing the harp would be one of my main interests, I love to get lost in a piece of music but I also love to get transported to another world in a book. I love to read different genres of books from the classics to more modern dystopian novels. The past few years I have been busy in secondary school but as I go to college this year, I hope to discover some new interests.

➖ I hear that you keep learning a harp on zoom since the lockdown. Please tell us your feeling and opinions the lessons on zoom.

Learning through Zoom has had many challenges but as technology becomes more and more advanced, this may become more normalized, I’m afraid the wifi in my area would need improvement before this could happen! Learning online has been enjoyable and engaging, it’s a change to be able to work alongside Siobhan from my own home and it was extremely valuable during this pandemic.

➖ I hear that ‘The Spirit of Laois Suite’ was composed by Michael Rooney collaborating young harpers including you. You discussed about Laois and Michael composed the suite based on it. Where are your favorite places to visit in County Laois? Could you share the attraction of ‘The Spirit of Laois Suite’ you think? Can you tell me what it was like to work with Michael?

In 2017 the harp orchestra had an amazing opportunity to work alongside Michael Rooney on a new suite of music which he composed, entitled ‘The Spirit of Laois’. Michael travelled to Portlaoise to teach us this music in 2 or 3 hour workshops. Working with Michael was a great honour and his music paints a beautiful picture of Laois. I love to visit the Slieve Bloom mountains in Laois as the walks are extremely beautiful and it’s a very peaceful place.

➖ Could you share the most memorable stories of domestic and overseas performances in each with photo or movie at Music Generation Laois?

The harp programme in Music Generation Laois has had many wonderful opportunities to perform, both at home and abroad. One of the more memorable trips was to the Edinburgh harp festival where we performed with Catriona McKay and Chris Stout. We also attended workshops with many renowned harpists while at this festival. We have performed on television programmes, most recently on the Ray D’arcy show with a Mexican band called Tlen Huicani. These amazing opportunities are a direct result of the hard work from the harp tutor, Siobhan Buckley and the co-ordinator of Music Generation Laois, Rosa Flannery.

➖ What is your dream in the future?

At the age of 19, its very hard to imagine the future, I am still discovering new interests which may take me in many different directions.  Hopefully in a few years time I will be a qualified pharmacist but I hope to continue learning and playing the harp in the future.

➖ What do you want to do in Japan apart from the concerts? Would you mind sharing your expectation to the concerts in Japan and message to Japanese audience?

As an avid traveller, I am looking forward to seeing all of what Japan has to offer. I hope to visit some of its famous sights and learn more about the history of the country. I’m also interested in seeing the differences between Irish and Japanese culture. I hope the concerts will give an insight into our culture and music. I look forward to meeting the Japanese musicians and learning the similarities and differences between our music.

The video was recorded in March 2020. Under the teaching of Michael Rooney, Music Generation Harp Ensemble played ‘Sands of Sorrow’ composed by Michael Rooney and ‘Between Worlds’ composed by Mícheál Ó’Súilleabháin for the Japan tour.


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