Interview to Alanah Conroy on 22 July & 11 October 2020.
Alanah is 18 years old and the member of Music Generation Laois Harp Ensemble. She won the all Irelend final in the Macra na Feirme talent competition in the solo instrumental category.
I was about 9 when I was attending a concert where I heard someone I knew play the harp and it was the first time I had ever heard one. I begged my mam to let me take lessons and after a year or two Music Generation Laois started harp lessons in my primary school and I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to learn it.
I attend a small group lesson with Siobhan every Saturday morning. We learn many different types of tunes including traditional Irish music to jazz. Music Generation allows us to discover many different genres of music and we are given the option as to which style we would like to learn. Music Generation Laois offer many different classes to people from all over the county. It’s a very inclusive program where our thoughts, the students, are always taken into consideration for different projects.
I enjoy learning many different types of music with Siobhan but my favourites have to be slow airs. Slow airs allow me to add my own twist and style to the song by connecting with the music I’m playing. They are never played the same twice with the flow of the music changing.
I love to perform on stage and apart from performing concerts with the harp I love to dance and act when I’m given the opportunity. I’m a part of a stage school in Laois called Dance-On Stage school where every year we put on a Christmas and summer showcase.
As an ensemble we have been so lucky to work and collaborate with Michael Rooney. We wanted to create a suite that reflected our home county of Laois and showcase it’s beauty and Michael really helped us translate this to music as part of a collaborative work. Each song represents an aspect of the county from landmarks to key figures in our history. We worked really hard alongside Michael in order to ensure the piece was to a high standard before performing it in front of our friends and family.
I love to visit Emo Court in Laois. It’s only a ten-minute drive from my house and is a great place to go for a walk. I used to always feed the ducks in the pond on my way around the gardens and of course had to stop off in the tea garden for a drink and cake. Exploring the house is also a great memory I have and we were even lucky enough to perform there as an ensemble a few years back.
The concert at Emo Court was to celebrate Harp Day in 2017. Music Generation Harp Ensemble performed the piece ‘Toker’ collaborating with Catriona Mckay and Olov Johannson.
Where to start. Music Generation Laois has brought us all across the country and even to Edinburgh we have so many memories. I’ll never forget one of our first performances as an ensemble outside of the county was in the American Embassy in Phoenix Park, Dublin. We spent the night playing music and eating the fancy sliders.
Our trip to Edinburgh harp festival will always be one of my favourites. We took classes in the morning and afternoon then we had the evening to explore the city. I’ll never forget going shopping when it was lashing rain outside or Rosa insisting we take a picture in the snow in front of the Music Generation Van. We ate a lot of Nando’s and Dominoes and spent our nights playing board games or watching tv in the common room. Being a student at Music Generation Laois has gifted me with many memories.
Unfortunately, Covid-19 put a halt to lessons at Music Generation, however, we were lucky enough to participate in online lessons. Of course, it’s not the same as in person lessons but it was always something to look forward to in the week. We even created videos to post online for everyone to see. Without these videos and online lessons, the weeks would’ve been very long with nothing to do but they kept me occupied during lockdown and I can’t wait to go back to in person lessons hopefully sooner rather than later.
It is so good to finally be back playing harp in person and getting to see people face to face. Of course, when everything shut down we were still delighted to be able to continue through zoom but it’s just not the same as playing in a room with other people. I’m so happy we can finally do that again.
We started out learning about the key details of Fitzmaurice’s life and focus on specific time frames such as the war and the 1920s. We then separate into groups and discuss key words associated with each movement and think about how we can translate this into music before sharing our ideas with the rest of the group. It’s a very collaborative project where all of us can have an input. Of course, it can be difficult when it comes to arranging different melodies and motifs because we are all working individually on those and sending them to Martin, but we will be back working as a group to compose each movement with Martin. It’s very exciting to have more members now with instruments we haven’t had before which will give us more options when we are arranging, and I can’t wait until we can all come together and perform the piece.
The impossible dream is starting to come together. You can really hear the story of Fitzmaurice through the music – each movement has its own style with a trad twist. It’s such a great experience and I’m glad to be a part of it. Of course, we can’t all practice together just yet but it was even nice to play in small groups for a video a few weeks back. I can’t wait to hear it after it’s all put together.
I really just hope to travel and play music for different audiences and maybe even try my hand at teaching young people, so they have the same opportunity I had when I was in school.
I can’t wait to go sight seeing and trying the food. I’ve always loved cherry blossoms too so I’m excited to see those and really just take in the culture and scenery. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and we are so grateful to be able to visit. Of course, we were disappointed when our trip got postponed but we will just enjoy it even more and have more time to perfect our playing for the concerts. We even got to learn some Japanese tunes that we are excited to play for the audience and collaborate with other Japanese musicians and ensembles.