Jessica Davis, (age 15) from Co. Offaly

Let me just say, the journey was worth it!
Diamond Hill lurking in the distance and Letterfrack, a picturesque village, nestled beneath the Connemara National Park was going to be home for me for a week. I was there to participate in the music course “Ceol Na Mara”, which has just celebrated its 4th year in existence and this was my 3rd year attending.

Ceol na Mara is designed to involve string players of all ages, Junior, Intermediate, Senior and Adult, to play chamber music, participate in different groups, develop performance technique and experience Irish culture by playing traditional Irish tunes and even trying Sean Nos dancing!
The tutors introduce music from different eras, and convey the style and technique used for playing it while at the same time developing an appreciation for the music through historical information and folklore.

Playing mostly classical myself – the traditional aspect of this course is most enjoyable and challenging as there are no scores available and learning is all aural. Odhran O Casaide is a specialist in this field and his love for this music inspires us all. When classes finish, Letterfrack and its surroundings had plenty to offer us like climbing Diamond Hill, visiting Kylemore Abbey or driving the short distance to Clifden.
Friday night came around swiftly and it was showtime! All the participants performed in the Teach Ceoil in Tully. There’s always a great buzz of anticipation and excitement as each of the groups get together and perform on stage to a packed audience, family and friends. Most of the works performed are unseen before “Ceol na Mara” week and it amazes me how quickly we all learn our individual sections.

For me, Ceol na Mara gives me the opportunity to meet new and old friends, enhance my ability to play and improve my self confidence. Letterfrack with its picturesque surroundings is the perfect place to conduct a music course and every year the co-ordinators strive to make the experience more memorable.
On a final note, being able to play the violin is a gift. Being able to play it in the company of terrific tutors in Letterfrack is an added bonus.

Aoife Rochford, (parent of Evelyn, age 10) from Co. Mayo

This was our second year attending Ceol na Mara in Connemara and we had no hesitation in making the return trip. We turned the whole event into a family holiday and in fairness that is a very easy thing to do in Connemara.
The focus is very much on the music and giving Evelyn the opportunity to meet other young people, who share her interest in music, and also to improve her music skills in a fun and relaxed atmosphere. She made lots of new friends from all over Ireland. The tutors are of the highest standard and that exposure in itself is a wonderful experience for anyone who loves music, but especially for children. Evelyn has a lovely memory from last year when on the very first day Geraldine O’Grady no less tuned her violin for her before the start of her class – that in itself was motivation for her to do her best and return again this year. I asked her just yesterday what she loved the most about the week and she replied “Mam, they make learning music so much fun.”

However there is so much more to the Ceol na Mara experience than just the music. Evelyn’s father loved the peaceful setting, the relaxed and friendly atmosphere in the local establishments. The Sean nos dancing classes were open to the families of the participants and it was great fun. We also loved the literary evening where local poets and actors entertained us. There was a guided tour for ‘Ceol na Mara’ families along the ‘Famine walk’ at Killary and we enjoyed the unspoilt beaches of the area. Our daughter of four was enthralled by the wonderful ‘Tegolin’s Tales’ in the Teach Ceol on Thursday evening with local tales. There really is something for all tastes and ages at Ceol na Mara.

Ceol na Mara is very well organised by Oonagh Keogh and her husband Ed. The welcome is very warm and reassuring. Once you arrive you know you’ve done the right thing by bringing your children to experience what Ceol na Mara has to offer. Of course the music is to the fore-front as it should be, but it is the holistic nature of the whole event that brings us back. It is good for the soul. We are already looking forward to 2012.

William Cullagh (age 26) Head of Music, Cistercian College, Roscrea

For me this was my first time at “Ceol na Mara” but certainly not my last. As a music teacher myself, I looked on the Ceol na Mara Adult course as an opportunity to review technique and have the opportunity to perform some chamber music with like-minded individuals who enjoy their music.

Geraldine O’Grady took us in groups for technique class and after correcting any bad habits we had picked up over the years we could already hear the difference in our playing.
After this we were divided up into quartets and went to study with Oonagh, Annette and Lisa. We had to put all of what we had learned in technique into practice now. This was great fun because each individual part had to be so clearly delivered with poise and elegance. Observation of dynamics, tempo and overall ability to listen her was crucial. Our tutors here gave us excellent guidance on how to deliver a perfect quartet and of course how to engage with each other throughout the performance.

Next on our schedule was traditional music with Odhran. This was a totally different experience from the previous one as we put away the music stands and used the “watch, listen and learn approach”. Some people in our group had never played traditional music before but before long without even realising it they were putting in ornamentation and being able to slide from one note to the next. This exercise was great for understanding the feel of the music and not relying on a part!
An extra aspect to the adult course was the music appreciation class given by Sheila. We would listen and discus the meaning behind the music. This was a very interactive exercise as we all had to describe what we had heard and how the piece had itself formed from a shell to a masterpiece.

The final concert was a spectacular experience for all as it was great to see everyone playing and fantastic to see so many young talented people. I say this because I myself work in education and I think a course like this for students is an invaluable experience and a fantastic grounding. I will certainly suggest it to my teenage students as it was obvious from talking with and watching this group perform that they, as well as every other group were having lots of fun! I look forward to next year!

Linda Dowling, mother of Eva, an Intermediate violin student

Thank you so much for a wonderful week of music summer music classes for children at Ceol na Mara. Eva and Mollie thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the week. From the moment we arrived we were welcomed into the midst of a friendly, enthusiastic and dedicated team of tutors and children. From chamber music groups to music appreciation to traditional music and sean-nós singing, this week was truly inspirational. The love of music that was so evident in all the expert tutors filtered down to all the children and they all worked really hard to rise to the challenge! The concerts on Friday finished off the week with a flourish and a lovely sense of achievement from the youngest to the most senior.

Dolores and myself enjoyed the fringe events, exploring Connemara and finding all the best coffee shops to relax in!
Above all, there was a tremendous sense of fun throughout the week and we all came away with wonderful memories, e-mails and phone numbers of new friends and a resounding ” Can we have some more, please?”

Julia Morris, a Senior viola student from England

I just wanted to thank you again for all your hard work organising and running Ceol na Mara; it was an amazing week and really good fun throughout.  From a student perspective, everything seemed to run incredibly smoothly and I have no doubt that was down to an awful lot of hard work by you and everyone else involved in the organisation.
Thanks again, and hoping to see you next year.

Cathy Murphy, (mother of Sadhh) a Senior student from Dublin

I just wanted to thank you for the wonderful experience we had at Ceol na Mara this year. Sadhbh loved every minute of it and I think her playing improved a lot over the course of the week. Sadhbh came home full of enthusiasm and with a new motivation to practice and keep playing to the very best of her ability. She also loved the social side and made very good friends whom she will keep in contact with. Everything ran so smoothly and the concerts at the end were a wonderful climax to a very enjoyable week. I know all of this does not just happen – and there was a huge amount of work put into it by you and all the very talented tutors, so thank you again.

Susan Taylor, mother of Jack, an Intermediate student from Dublin

Just to say, thanks again and well done to you and your team for organising a great week in Letterfrack. Jack really enjoyed the week (both trad and classical elements) and the concerts on Friday were really super! They really provided a great showcase for all that had been achieved.  Well done to all concerned.