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Making Music with Sonamus: the Wicklow Teaching Residency

min read

Making Music with Sonamus: the Wicklow Teaching Residency

min read


Making Music with Sonamus: the Wicklow Teaching Residency

An interactive shared learning project engaging with County Wicklow residents aged 55 and over, presented by Music Network and Wicklow County Council Arts Office. The programme kicked off in January 2021 with 16 eager and enthusiastic Co. Wicklow residents, aged 55 and over, taking on the challenge of returning to music. Benefitting from the combined musical backgrounds of renowned Wicklow quartet Sonamus, Eamon Sweeney (guitar), Annette Cleary (cello), Rachel Factor (harpsichord) and Tim Doyle (whistles), the tuition programme offered participants an opportunity to experience and learn an array of musical styles and techniques, reigniting their love of playing music. The Residency offered participants both individual and group tuition on piano, guitar, cello and whistle. Tuition was entirely free of charge and instruments were provided as needed for the duration of the project.

Individual and group lessons took place online and the residency concluded with three outdoor ensemble sessions where participants and Sonamus relished the opportunity to play music together in-person for the first time.

The programme has proved to be such a tremendous success that it has now been extended to the end of 2021.

An additional unexpected outcome is that the learners have committed to continuing as an ensemble together and will be supported also by Sonamus in this endeavour.

Making Music with Sonamus; the Wicklow Teaching Residency  –  Video

Filmed on location by Léiriú Súgradh Teo at Poulaphouca House and Falls, Co. Wicklow.

Participant Feedback


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.” 

Joyce Jones (cello)

“This project also reinforced my belief that new learning is always achievable and age is generally not a deterrent to this”.

Ruth Barker (cello)

“The online lessons are a new experience for me, another new skill to learn!”

Elaine Byrne (keyboard)

“The impact of being part of this group is that I have refocussed 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”.


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”.

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.”

 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.”



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