Fun Size Jazz in Limerick

Back in February 2020, The Ark was delighted to head out of Dublin and down the road to Limerick for our first regional Fun Size Jazz project. Here, our Creative Arts Manager Aisling O'Gorman gives an overview of the project and a rundown of the day's fun size events.

The Ark created Fun Size Jazz with our friends in Improvised Music Company to support jazz and improvising musicians to gain knowledge and experience of performing professionally for young audiences. Right now, this isn't something that many musicians usually think about doing, partly because opportunities to explore performing for children are unfortunately rare.

Fun Size Jazz is one way The Ark and IMC are trying to change this, by giving musicians a chance to find out, in a supportive learning environment, if performing for children could be a rewarding new area of their practice. We want the participating musicians to be creatively stretched, gain new skills and take time to reflect on their experience.

The Ark first presented Fun Size Jazz in Dublin in 2018 and were delighted that six music ensembles participated. The benefits to those musicians were clear and we wanted to give the opportunity to musicians in other parts of the country too. Thanks to the partnership of Limerick Jazz Society, led by the dynamic John Daly, that became a reality this year.

John embraced the project whole-heartedly and in January this year he set about recruiting musicians to participate. Once on board, the nine artists were tasked with coming up with a short ten minute scratch performance that they thought would appeal to children aged 6+. It could be existing material reframed for younger listeners, new ideas or a mix.

A preparation session followed in which the musicians formed bands and came up with initial ideas. The Ark and IMC shared some guidelines and ideas with musicians from our own experience to help them in their approach to this task which was new for many.

This was followed a few weeks later by a more intensive training and rehearsal session. On this day the musicians had the chance to talk through their ideas in detail with the project partner organisations and each other, enjoy a creative workshop on playfulness led by musician and MC Sam Kavanagh, and then rehearse their short shows.

Then, the three bands performed for audiences of school children at The Belltable Arts Centre, Limerick. Each band performed their scratch show twice, which helped them discover how different audiences, and audiences of different ages, react to the same material. It was really interesting to see how their mini-shows developed so much from the preparation session, into rehearsal, into the first live performance and then how they developed again in the second outing with a different audience. It is a credit to both the professionalism and creativity of the musicians just how much positive development was obvious in them as performers as they engaged with the Fun Size Jazz process and went for it!

Here are the three bands who participated and a short description of their shows:

  • From Autumn’s Song to Summer’s Air
    Drawing on jazz, pop, improvisation, classical and Irish traditional music, this show takes inspiration from the circle of life as it spins and weaves through songs associated with the changing of the seasons. With Rory Keane (guitar), Aoife Doyle (vocals), Chelsea Zimmerman (flute).
  • All Fun and Games
    Playing with music in every sense of the word, this light-hearted romp plays with musicians like a pin-ball machine. Actor Myles Breen ably assisted by the audience will be throwing ideas at the improvising string players, who will juggle it into an exciting musical performance. You might hear battles between jazz & classical music, or a musical adventure taking some weird turns from audience choices! With Kathrine Barnecutt (violin/viola), Peter Hanagan (double bass), and Myles Breen (actor)
  • Song of the Jungle
    Hear the sounds of different jungle animals created on musical instruments, weaving themselves into an exciting jungle song! With Jane Fraser (vocals/electronics), Rory Murphy (bass/keys/vocals), Paul Breen (percussion).

Following the performance, we conducted an in-depth reflection and evaluation discussion with all the musicians. I loved watching the shows and seeing them develop, yet this part is almost my favourite stage in the process. The keenness of the group to take time to think and consider seriously what the experience had been for them, what they had learned/found difficult/loved was a testament to their engagement and showed that a genuine interest in young audiences had been sparked for many.

Even though musicians who participated were at different stages in terms of their experience and comfort level with this work before and after participating, it was heartening to hear how much everyone enjoyed the challenge, embraced the creative possibilities and, crucially, discovered joys of playing for children - who have open minds when it comes to jazz and improvised music.

For sure, they can all be proud that even though they were short scratch shows, both audiences thoroughly enjoyed themselves as the feedback below from the schools who attended shows. We hope these musicians are inspired to now continue to experiment and work with young audiences and that we hear more from them in the future.

Huge thanks to our fantastic partners Improvised Music Company and Limerick Jazz Society for working with us to make this happen. Thank you also to the Belltable Arts Centre for taking such good care of us while we were in Limerick. And most of all, thanks to all the participating musicians for embracing the Fun Size Jazz spirit!

If you are an artist interested in hearing about these kinds of opportunities as well as other benefits, sign-up for our free Artists Club here.

From Limerick Jazz Society:
Enlightening and enriching children’s lives with projects like these is one of the most rewarding things a person can do and for our group it was that and much more. They are so happy that they got the chance to do something which is somewhat outside their comfort zone and how the journey took them to places they could not have envisaged.” - John Daly, Limerick Jazz Society.

From the audiences:
It was fab, the children were really engaged, off their seats and loved participating with all the acts. It was like a scene from Riverdance when the girl played the flute in the first act and the lady singer was fabulous at involving/engaging and getting the children to sing along to the little melodies. Then came Myles with his triangle!! They were still talking about Jimbob and the journey he brought them on when we got back to school. The children laughed at the fiddle and double base arguing. Finally the jungle sounds in the end were great. At one stage I could see the children looking up at the ceiling waiting for the monkeys to appear!” - David Canny, St John‘s National School Cratloe

The interactivity was fantastic and the children were really engaged throughout. It was fantastic to see! There was a great educational benefit also as it got the children to critically think about the meaning behind the music, such as the interpretation of the seasons in the first session. They were raving about it when they got back to school and one boy repeatedly exclaimed that he was "crying from laughing at the triangle". The explanation and knowledge gained was fantastic! The artists and host were enthusiastic and really vibed with the children.” - Kate Walshe, Corpus Christi National School Moyross