Interview: Aoife Buckley (Member of Harp Ensemble)

Interview to Aoife Buckley on 22 July 2020.
Aoife is 20 years old and the member of Music Generation Laois Harp Ensemble. She got many awards. In recent years, she received her Gold Gaisce Award from the president of Ireland, Michael D Higgins. She also closed the ceremony by performing on the harp for him at Dublin Castle last October.

➖ 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 the harp at the age of 10, where I attended weekly lessons with Damhnait Nic Suibhne. These classes took place in my local secondary school which allowed me to continue my lessons up until 2019 when I went on to third level education. My sister, Siobhan Buckley, studied music in NUI Maynooth, and immediately after finishing her degree, she got offered a job with Music Generation Laois. Seeing all the wonderful opportunities that Siobhan was experiencing with Music Generation Laois, I immediately asked her if I could join in on the harp programme. I got the train from Mallow to Portlaoise every Wednesday after school to attend these lessons, which were definitely worth the long trip, as many ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunities were given to us.

➖ 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?

Each Wednesday I got a train up to Portlaoise so that I could attend the weekly harp ensemble lesson. This lesson was an hour long where we learned a tune a week. We learned the music by ear, so Siobhan would play a line and we would have to repeat it. We were then given time to come up with our own ideas and arrangements for the tunes which made the lessons even more interesting. Music Generation Laois is an organisation that has helped so many young musicians around Laois and other parts of the country, to develop their own musical style, and helped them to establish themselves as musicians. They offer so many wonderful opportunities in which the young musicians will be eternally grateful for. Joining Music Generation Laois was one of the best decisions I ever made as I made so many new friends and memories.

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

My favourite piece of music has to be Rose and Kathleen’s slip jig by Liz Carroll. This piece was taught to us by Catriona McKay at a Music Generation Laois summer camp. This is such a lighthearted and uplifting tune that you’re bound to be in a good mood after listening to it.

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

Playing the harp is my main interest, so when I’m not playing the harp, I’m usually either in college or working at the weekend. Playing the harp is like having an escape from the real world as it allows you to get lost in the music without having to think about anything else.

➖ 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 Music Generation Laois harp orchestra had the amazing opportunity to work with Michael Rooney where he composed a suit of music entitled ‘The Spirit of Laois’. This suit of music was written about different locations in Laois which made it even more special to the harp orchestra. There are so many places to visit in Laois, but my favourite place to go is the Rock of Dunamaise as the scenery in which it overlooks is breathtaking. Michael made many trips to Portlaoise where he taught us the music in 2/3 hour long workshops. Having the opportunity to work with Michael was a wonderful experience as he is one of the best harpers in Ireland, and to say that we were able to work with him is a great privilege.

➖ 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 at Music Generation Laois has been presented with many wonderful opportunities to play in various venues both in Ireland and abroad. One of the most memorable performances was at the Edinburgh International Harp Festival where the harp ensemble played in concert with Catriona McKay and Chris Stout. We also got the opportunity to play on television programmes such as ‘The Ray D’Arcy Show’, and ‘Morning Ireland’. These opportunities wouldn’t not have been possible if it wasn’t for the hard work of Rosa Flannery, the coordinator of Music Generation Laois, and Siobhan Buckley, the harp tutor.

➖ How do you continue playing a harp during the Coronavirus pandemic?

During the Coronavirus pandemic, Siobhan and I were able to Quarantine together which was brilliant as we were able to play together in person, which is something that a lot of musicians missed during lockdown, so we were extremely lucky to have had someone to play tunes with.
Máire and I go to college together and we are both very passionate about music. During quarantine we weren’t able to play together as I was in Cork and she was in Offaly. We saw a few videos of people playing together virtually and we decided to give it a go. It was great to be able to play together from the safety of our own homes.

➖ I hear that about 50 young musicians among 70 orchestra members in total have joined during the pandemic and lockdown and they met other members only online. What are you discussing about Colonel James Fitzmaurice and what are you learning apart from him? Do you have interesting episodes about this project? Could you tell us the feelings and opinions about it?

Each week, we meet and learn about the events of James Fitzmaurice’s life during the war and the 1920’s. We are shown clips and slideshows where we then break into smaller groups to come up with key words and musical ideas that we think would represent these events and the emotions surrounding these events. As well as learning about James Fitzmaurice, Martin is also teaching us some jazz pieces so that we really have an understanding of the Roaring 20’s era. Having the orchestra contribute to the writing of the piece is special as we know where the music came from and the reasoning behind it. Although we haven’t been able to meet as a group in person due to the pandemic, everyone is really contributing to the process which makes it a much more enjoyable experience. Playing a piece of music that you know the background of is a lot more meaningful as you can really connect with the emotions of the music.

➖ What is your dream in the future?

Playing the harp will always be a passion of mine, and I hope to continue playing for audiences, and with friends. Hopefully after I finish my degree as a primary school teacher, I will go on to do a masters in music therapy, where I will hopefully be able to positively impact people’s lives through music.
Music therapy helps people of all ages whose lives have been affected by an illness, injury or disability, through supporting their psychological, emotional, cognitive, physical, communicative and social needs. Music therapy is available to anyone who needs it as clients do not need any musical experience to participate. To be able to have a positive impact on people lives is an amazing opportunity and especially when it’s through music.

➖ 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?

I would love to experience the Japanese culture and try some of the native food. The Japanese culture seems to be a lot different than the Irish culture with many different traditions. To visit Japan during cherry blossom season has been on my wish list for a while so this is one of the main things I would like to see when I hopefully get the opportunity to visit Japan next year. I am also looking forward to meeting the Japanese harpist and sharing our different styles of harp playing.

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