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What’s So Great About UCC Music?

Teaching a friend to play a tune in a pub

Teaching a friend to play a tune in a pub

What’s So Great About UCC Music?

By Sarah E. Lahoud

Think about the first thing that pops into your head when you think of these three words: Ireland, music, UCC. If you’re from America, chances are you thought of a tiny “Quiet Man” town pub with disorderly leprechaun musicians playing tunes of no known origin late into the night. You’d probably be missing the point that UCC stands for University College Cork and that the pub, though lovely, is not the only musical venue. You’d also be mistaken in your belief in leprechauns (I’m sorry!), especially of the music-making variety.

If you’re Irish, you probably imagined a bunch of perpetually idealistic, possibly brilliant, young students who face uncertain and, very likely, nonexistent futures. You would probably be operating under the interesting conclusion that musicians are non-career seeking hero-artists. You’d also be mistakenly thinking of all students as young, optimistic and inexperienced. If you are of any other nationality, I’m afraid I can’t guess what you thought, but based on the responses I’ve gotten by asking my international friends, no thoughts will be especially flattering to those of us who have chosen to study music in Ireland at University College Cork. Well, maybe I can’t convince you that what I’ve decided to dedicate my life to is worthwhile, but I can hopefully dispel a few myths. Let’s just break down those three words, will we?

Myth #1: Why Ireland?

Ireland, despite the traditional and static stereotypes of nostalgic diaspora all around the world, harbors a vibrant and talented bit of creativity. Don’t get me wrong. I love Irish trad music, and a few good weekly sessions back in New York and yearly excursions to festivals like Willie Clancy or the Catskills definitely kept my Irish “homesickness” at bay before I moved back here. But there are two aspects to this. I’m happy to report that trad actually is a real and creative musical presence in Ireland. And it is not the only one. Some of the world’s top classical composers and jazz musicians live here, such as Raymond Deane, John Godfrey, and Paul O’Donnell. Some amazing ethnomusicologists live and work here: Mel Mercier, Jonathan Stock, and Juniper Hill lecture at UCC. And have you never heard of The Script, Kodaline, or Niall Horan from One Direction? As I’ve written before, I chose to pursue my postgrad degree in Ireland for a number of reasons. But I do think Ireland is a pretty logical choice to study music, don’t you?

Myth #2: Why Music in Ireland?

If you want to study music, composition, performance, musicology, technology- you should definitely not be choosing a place only for its infamous musical history or for the number of talented musical people you might run into while you’re there, though you might run into Kodaline when you’re walking the streets of Cork on Arthur’s Day (just saying). You should however choose a place that constantly inspires you musically: a city where you can go see trad performed one night in the same pub as a jazz concert you saw the night before, a city in which musicians are often busking on the street just to try out new material, a city in which student gigs are rampant and impromptu collaborations are a nightly occurrence. Well, welcome to Cork.

The best part about Cork’s eclectic music scene is that it’s always lying in plain and welcoming sight. As an incredibly shy musician and performer myself, exploring the city has been one of the best ways for me to find inspiration for my own work and studies. The vast amount of variety of musical expressions present here and the willingness to share creates a pervasive atmosphere of creativity. Not everyone is a musician, but everyone has and continues to enjoy the dozens of proper venues around the city, such as the Cork Opera House, and the smaller, less discussed gig nights, such as those at the Crane Lane and the Old Oak. And beyond just performing, musicians in Cork are impressive for the sense of purpose and usefulness that they put into their work. The number and variety of community music programs, outreach education programs, and music participation organizations among marginalized and disadvantaged groups throughout the city are actually inspirational. Nowhere I have ever lived before can boast such a culture of not only of musical permeance but also of musical inspiration. The music is casual and formal, creative and accessible all at once. Other cities have the numbers, the variety, and the venues, but Cork has the culture.

Myth #3: Why UCC for Music in Ireland?

For the Irish already familiar with the strong presence of music throughout the country and in Cork specifically and are therefore left unbaffled by the first two mythbusters, it is probably this third one that’s itching your brain. Because UCC’s is not the only university-level music program in the city, many wonder why we would choose UCC over another. UCC’s reputation as a practical music program is not as strong as some, and our strength is often credited to fields of academia, such as musicology and ethnomusicology. But whatever interest I have been able to dream up, I have found an outlet for it at UCC. The department itself offers strong support for its student musicologists and ethnomusicologists; and practical modules, such as performance ensembles, ear training, and composition, all offer opportunities to study with great lecturers and other students. Beyond the department, music students tend to be very proactive, organizing performances, gigs, musicals, and fundraisers. As part of a small department, I’ve been fortunate to form great relationships not only with my peers  but also with my lecturers. As with any program, it is what we make of it. But seeing as how UCC seems to house a lot of potential inspiration and support, it’s a little bit easier to make a lot of it here, I’d say.

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