What is your current role and how long have you been working in it?
I am the National Director of Music Generation and commenced in the role in January 2010.
How did you get to where you are today and what influenced your decision to work in your chosen field?
My background spans the worlds of music performance, music education, arts/cultural management, strategic policy and research. I grew up with music and always wanted to pursue it as a career, and from an early age was very drawn to the world of music education.
After completing my music degree in UCC, I initially trained and taught as a secondary school teacher for a while but was always more drawn to the world of music performance in education and in particular the realm of conducting. Thereafter, I worked as a freelance performing musician and music educator, directing various ensembles, conducting youth orchestras, adult/youth/children’s choirs and generally developing my portfolio of practice. I also began to study with the Choral Music Experience Institute for Choral Teacher Education in the States, because I really wanted to specialise in that area. During that time I was also appointed Project Director of a pioneering arts-in-education research initiative and from there I initiated a countywide choral music education programme in County Wexford which was very innovative for its time.
Following that I was appointed Arts Officer to Wexford County Council in 2002 and subsequently took up my current position in 2010.
What do you love/enjoy most about your job?
I love what Music Generation stands for and believe in the values that it is built upon. As a movement of change it has a very clear purpose – to transform the lives of children and young people by giving them access to high quality music tuition in their local area. Every dimension of the organisation’s work is concerned with achieving that outcome.
What are the most challenging parts of your job?
Every element of it can be challenging as it’s a multi-faceted senior leadership role. Aspects include strategic planning, policy development, the nurturing of strategic partnerships with multiple stakeholders, cultivating and leading learning networks, research, building and empowering teams, financial management and advocacy.
Each component has its own challenges but that, along with its diversity, is what keeps me motivated and interested in the role.
How do you relax?
I enjoy cooking, cycling, gardening, spending time with family and friends and playing music when time allows. I also love going to concerts and engaging with live music. I especially like going to performances by children and young people involved in Music Generation as I find them truly inspiring.
What skills and personality traits do you think are essential to a job like yours?
Passion, resilience, motivation, determination, ambition, entrepreneurial ability and openness to learning. You also need to be able to translate vision into realisation and action and be adaptable.
What’s your advice to anyone who wants to pursue a career in the same field?
Because the needs in music education in Ireland are so great, and what Music Generation is trying to do is so significant, I think that you absolutely need to love and believe in the purpose of music in the lives of children and young people and how it changes lives.
You need to believe in the vision that roots the organisation. You’ve got to be resilient, determined, hard-working, have the capacity to envision what’s possible for children and young people in music and be really willing and open to learning.
There was no route map or clear career path to arriving at the role that I have now. The pathway evolved and that’s probably reflective of how the arts and cultural landscape has evolved in Ireland over the past 25 years. For me it was a combination of creating opportunities in response to my own ambitions and what I wanted to achieve in a strategic way, as well as responding to exciting opportunities as they arose.
I think it’s important to be versatile and to be equally adept in the ‘business’ and ‘practice’ dimensions of the organisation.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Down through the years, I’ve been given really inspirational nuggets of advice from lots of people who have had a significant influence on me at different stages of my life. One of the most influential mentors that I ever worked with is Dr. Doreen Rao who’s globally renowned for her work in choral music education leadership. She said to me one time, “you never know who the teacher is and in music education children and young people are our best teachers”. How right she is!
Another great educational leader also once said to me that so much of leadership is about listening – that’s been a key piece of advice that has stood me in good stead.
What has been the best moment of your career so far?
I think the moments that continue to sustain and excite me in the various roles I’ve had are simply those where I’ve been so inspired by live music-making, particularly that interaction between children/young people and musicians. When you experience that, either in live performance or in a moment of teaching and learning, that for me has always been the best moment which continues to excite and energise me about the work that I do and that I believe in.
What are your career aspirations?
As I’ve been working professionally for about 25 years now, in looking ahead to the next 25 years my aspiration would be to continue working with fantastic teams and pursuing movements of change which ultimately impact positively people’s lives.