Mu­sic bridges the gen­er­a­tion gap

Com­poser and con­sul­tant strike the right note with stu­dents from Tal­laght and Tip­per­ary schools

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Parenting / Communicating - Sheila Way­man

It was the look of won­der on the face of his chil­dren’s great-grand­mother that first gave hospi­tal con­sul­tant Rónán Collins the idea to use mu­sic and tech­nol­ogy to bring the gen­er­a­tions to­gether.

She had just been played a video clip of leg­endary tenor Mario Lanza singing – a voice she had grown to know and love through lis­ten­ing to her fa­ther’s phono­graph. But to see him, in per­son so to speak, on the screen of an iPad and be trans­ported back all those years was as­ton­ish­ing to her.

Too of­ten tech­nol­ogy is driv­ing the gen­er­a­tions apart, says Collins, a con­sul­tant in geri­atric and stroke medicine at Tal­laght hospi­tal in Dublin. So he de­vised a mu­si­cal rem­i­nis­cence project to bring them to­gether in­stead.

Par­ents and grand­par­ents used to hear the up­com­ing gen­er­a­tion’s beat through com­mu­nal stereo sys­tems and “turn it down” was a sta­ple of fam­ily life. Now it’s all head­phones and si­lent nod­ding to a per­sonal playlist, so it takes an ef­fort to share,

Com­poser Ian Wil­son came on board with Collins to sit down with stu­dents from Mount Se­skin Com­mu­nity Col­lege in Tal­laght and from Cashel Com­mu­nity Col­lege in Co Tip­per­ary, to ask what pieces of mu­sic they felt the strong­est emo­tional con­nec­tion to and why – an ex­er­cise that was then re­peated with the teenagers’ grand­par­ents. It was soon ap­par­ent that, of course, they liked dif­fer­ent mu­sic, but of­ten for the same rea­sons.

Loss, nos­tal­gia and feel­ing dif­fer­ent were re­cur­ring themes, says Wil­son, who, ti­tled the project “Same As It Ever Was”, af­ter a Talk­ing Heads song that is part of his own life’s sound­track. With the help of UK poet He­len Pizzey, he turned frag­ments of these con­ver­sa­tions about mean­ing­ful mu­sic into new songs. Then he set those songs to mu­sic.

On a re­cent Wed­nes­day morn­ing in the li­brary of Mount Se­skin in Job­stown, some of the project par­tic­i­pants and other mu­sic stu­dents are the first to hear these songs per­formed by Dublin-born, Lon­don-based singer Lau­ren Kin­sella, voted Jazz FM Vo­cal­ist of the Year in 2016. Her voice, backed by a cou­ple of in­stru­men­tal­ists, is cap­ti­vat­ing as lyrics about me­mory, shar­ing and loss lap around the room.

Some of the stu­dents would never have heard mu­sic per­formed live pro­fes­sion­ally be­fore, says mu­sic teacher Aoib­heann Doyle af­ter­wards. The per­for­mance was re­peated in the Cashel school the next day.

Aoife Ryan (16) from New Inn, Co Tip­per­ary, and her grand­mother Noreen Heaney (76), who lives nearby, both like mu­si­cals but di­verge on the older woman’s fond­ness for coun­try and western. They know that now, thanks to the project.

“It has def­i­nitely brought us closer to­gether through lis­ten­ing and com­par­ing mu­sic,” says Aoife. She showed her nanny mu­sic videos, such as those of Ed Sheeran. Noreen, who se­cretly started com­puter classes with­out telling any­one in the fam­ily, is able to re­turn the com­pli­ment by shar­ing clas­si­cal com­posers, such as Strauss, on her own lap­top.


Back in Job­stown, Megan Fay (16), who is do­ing mu­sic for her Leav­ing Cer­tifi­cate, col­lab­o­rated with her grand­mother, Di­ane Fay (68), for whom Neil Di­a­mond songs strike a par­tic­u­lar chord. The teenager down­loaded them on to a CD for her, which she could play on a Walk­man. What did Megan her­self think of the likes of Sweet Caro­line and I Am I Said?

“I could ap­pre­ci­ate them,” she says. For her part, she in­tro­duced Di­ane to mu­sic from the Ice­landic band Of Mon­sters and Men. Lis­ten­ing to it just once was enough for her.

“Ev­ery­body has their own taste in mu­sic; to be hon­est with you, the songs in our day, I thought they were very good,” says Di­ane. “What they have now is very dif­fer­ent – I couldn’t just sit down and lis­ten to it.”

She thinks a lot of to­day’s mu­sic is rub­bish – and ac­tu­ally Megan doesn’t dis­agree. Go­ing back an­other gen­er­a­tion, the one song Diana re­calls from her par­ents’ time is Oh! My Papa by the Everly Broth­ers.


Calum Gor­man (16) chose a cover ver­sion of the Si­mon & Gar­funkel clas­sic The Sound of Si­lence to play to his nanny, Rose Na­gle, while she shared Pi­ano Man by Billy Joel. “She talks about old songs all the time – she lis­tens to lots of 1950s stuff,” says Calum. He has re­cently dis­cov­ered Johnny Cash, whose ca­reer took off in the 1950s; it was a cover of the song Hurt, which Cash re­leased a year be­fore his death in 2003, that first at­tracted Calum.

For Dami Hughes (16) and Mercy Musa (16), it’s the mu­sic of the late XXXTenta­cion that res­onates.

“It’s hard to lis­ten to his mu­sic but I still have to,” says Mercy of the rap­per who was shot dead at the age of 20 last June, pledg­ing that she will stick with him “for­ever”.

“It is the tone of what he is try­ing to get across,” says Dami to ex­plain what ap­peals. Both he and Mercy brought their moth­ers in on this project.

“She was sur­prised at the song that I chose, Mambo Num­ber 5, says Dami, while Mercy traded a song by Mena Mar­tinez with her mother, who likes Bey­oncé – not a taste her daugh­ter shares.


Pupils from Mount Se­skin Com­mu­nity Col­lege, who were in­volved in a mu­si­cal project with their grand­par­ents. Back row from left: Gio­vani Makelo, Calum Gor­man, Daniella Quinn, Al­ber­tini Sha­banov, Scott Bellew, Mercy Musa, Nikita Quinn. Front row Dami Hughes, Megan Fay, her grand­mother Dina Fay, and guest singer Lau­ren Kin­sella.

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