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Making Music with Sonamus

An interactive shared learning project engaging with County Wicklow residents aged 55 and over, presented by Music Network and Wicklow County Council.
Music Network

Following an open call for participants in December 2020, “Making Music with Sonamus: the Wicklow Teaching Residency” officially kicked-off in January 2021with a total of 16 participants from all over Wicklow selected from the open call. Applicants were offered 10 weeks of one-to-one tuition (via Zoom!) and a choice of4 different musical instruments, cello, keyboard, guitar and whistle.
The project is currently in full swing and will run until June of this year. This will culminate in 3 group ensemble sessions, which will be held at the Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray, subject to Covid-19 restrictions. At these sessions, all 16 participants will meet and play together in person for the first time, performing in an evenly balanced ensemble comprising 4 participants playing each instrument.
Prior to this finale, there will also be 3 group instrumental lessons, where participants focusing on the same instruments will learn together. Throughout the10-week programme, a series of “Coffee & Recap” Sessions also allows participants and teachers to compare notes, share learnings and enjoy meaningful social interaction with like-minded musicians and new friends.

Music Network
Music Network

This expert tuition is being delivered by the 4 members of renowned Wicklow quartet “Sonamus”. Eamon Sweeney (guitar), Rachel Factor (harpsichord), Annette Cleary (cello) and Tim Doyle (whistles), are all highly experienced and well-known musicians and Sonamus’ unique style of music is an amalgamation of the players’ backgrounds in traditional, classical and early music.
Speaking of their experience so far, here’s what some of the participants had to say:
Anne O’ Connell (whistle): “What I’ve enjoyed most are the lessons with Tim. He’s a brilliant music teacher. He demonstrates and teaches how to get the best out of an instrument and I really enjoy that”.
Elaine Byrne (keyboard): “Each person’s level is taken into consideration. There is no need for me to feel overwhelmed or feel that I won’t be good enough. Everything is monitored as we’re going along so it means that I’m getting maximum benefit from it, and that’s really good.”

Bernadette Fitzgerald (cello): “What I have most enjoyed so far is meeting Annette, my tutor. She is absolutely fantastic. And then, of course, receiving my beautiful half-cello which I have already fallen in love with and I can’t wait to start playing.”
Uta Bean Uí Almhain (cello): "I enjoy very much practising every day, so I am trying to master all those new challenges. I think that’s fabulous.”


Deirdre Malone –(keyboard): "I found the details of this programme by accident and it has been the saving of my life. I play concertina and had learned piano as a child but that was 61 years ago. I am thoroughly enjoying the challenge of learning piano again and am surprising myself at how much I remember. I can't wait each day to practice and can forget everything as soon as my fingers touch the keys. Might I say I've a brilliant teacher."


Joe Nealon – (guitar): "I played a small amount of music too many decades ago for me to remember now where to find those same notes on a fretboard. I played some mandolin and I took lessons in fiddle for a period. I have gathered numerous instruments over the years and I always vowed to interact in some music making when I retired. I always had good intentions to play music again but always it evaded me for lots of reasons.

Last year my wife brought this music program to my attention as she was aware of my feeling to play again. After applying and expecting to come in at the latter end of entrants, I did not hold out too much hope of being accepted.

I was over the moon when Music Network informed me that I had been accepted into the programme. I knew then that I wanted to commit to the programme, but felt very rusty..

I have had numerous lessons now and it has gotten easier with the friendly instruction from my tutor Eamon Sweeney. My lessons have brought back some of my ear skills so it is easier to remember my notes. I am happy to be able to play a few songs and feel that it is just the start now. I will not allow myself to go without playing in the future.

The programme for me is invaluable as I was so far removed from music that, to be honest, I might never have started again. I am looking forward to playing music in a group setting with the other participants in the near future and to continuing to improve with practice.

Thank you very much for this experience."

Elaine Byrne (keyboard): "What drew me to the project was the knowledge that I'd be learning from experts in the musical world. The idea of having one-to-one tuition really appealed to me. 

At the start, I had mixed feelings. I was concerned that I might not be up to the standard needed to realistically take part. I was looking forward to the day when I'd meet my tutor (even if only through Zoom) but I was also feeling apprehensive as I printed out the first sheets of music. 

My experience so far is that I need not have been apprehensive and fearful as to whether I would fit in with the group. We are exploring music that is both interesting and manageable. The level of pieces can be tailored to suit the individual musical standard of each person. At no time have I felt overwhelmed or out of my depth with the pieces.

The impact of being part of this group is that I have re-focused my attention onto music and what it means to me. I know I can do it if I put in the effort. I will have no regrets as time goes by that I never achieved my dream of becoming a musician. 

I'm not saying it's easy, but what I am saying is that it is one of the most worthwhile projects I've been involved in and I feel privileged to be part of the Making Music with Sonamus programme. To date it has been absolutely worthwhile and I'm delighted with the progress I know I am making."


We will continue to post updates from this wonderful project on this page, and on our social media platforms, so please follow Wicklow County Arts Office to keep up to date.
Making Music with Sonamus: the Wicklow Teaching Residency is presented by Music Network and Wicklow County Council Arts Office. Music Network is funded by the Arts Council of Ireland. This initiative is also supported by the Keep Well Campaign, Creative Ireland the Government's Resilience and Recovery Plan 2020–2021, and the Mermaid Arts Centre.