Friday 8 December 2023

Anatomy of a Fall - Film Review

 The film that stood out to me this year was Anatomy of a Fall, or "Anatomie d'une chute" in French, as spoken throughout. This film is two and a half hours that kept me thinking long after I left the cinema.  Anatomy of a Fall is a legal drama about the investigation of a man's death and possible murder.  The story mainly focuses on the wife, who may have killed him, and their blind son, who is the only witness, but it's miles ahead of most courtroom dramas because it includes a gripping family drama as well.  The film focuses on a single point in time and dissects its characters' motives until it reaches a conclusion.  Throughout the course of the film, you are given information via court scenes and character discussions.  The director also knows what not to tell you as we don't see "The Fall" or any flashbacks, unless it is pre-recorded footage or audio.  The film is committed to leaving it up to our imagination and it is up to us to discern fact from fiction.  Its confined setting and characters keep it from being too complex but also saves it from being shallow and without any nuance.

The acting is incredible and it's among the best I've seen this year.  I had never seen Sandra Hüller in any other film before this and I'll be looking into her filmography as soon as possible.  She shows us every bit of the struggle of her character to maintain her innocence and the grief over the loss of her husband, often without saying so much as a word. Swann Arlaud plays Vincent, her lawyer and possibly her lover. He gives a lot of thought to how he plays him.  I felt that Antoine Reinartz, here in the role of the prosecutor, talked a bit too much with his hands.  Milo Machado Graner as the child had a lot of weight on his shoulders and carried his role well throughout, while also scaring me and reminding me of Danny from The Shining.  However, I have to say the real standout is the family dog who is very professional and never pays attention to the massive film crew following him.

The film uses language well.  There is plenty of French, English and a little German, and they're often used interchangeably.  For some keeping up with subtitles, especially in a feature film, can sound like work but for me it only keeps my eyes glued to the screen.  However, it was the sound design that stood out to me.  The film knew how to craft its quiet moments while also knowing when to be loud: this coats the room with suspense.
Crucial to any film is a sense of direction.  Anatomy of a Fall certainly has a very purposeful trajectory.  Every scene was so effective and the ending just left me wanting more.  This is Justine Triet's first film on a level this international. I find Anatomy of a Fall to be as perfect as a film can be: five stars.  I really would love to see what projects she works on after this.
Adam Geraghty

Tuesday 21 November 2023

Senior Play - Mamma Mia by Chloe Flegg

This year pupils in Form 5 put on a production of the musical "Mamma Mia!" There were three performances held 9-11 November. I attended all these shows because my sister was part of the cast. The play was absolutely amazing, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Every person involved in the production was incredible; their singing and acting skills were top-notch. The costumes were vibrant, fun, and perfectly suited to the theme of the play.


Each night, the audience was packed with lively and excited individuals who applauded and danced along. The songs performed were outstanding; some were very emotional like "Slipping through my fingers," while others brought joy and happiness like "Mamma Mia." At the end of each show, there was an encore featuring three songs where everyone had the opportunity to join in singing along and dancing. This segment became my favourite part due to its interactive nature and sheer enjoyment of participating. 
Although there was a tinge of sadness when the play concluded, I am certain that everyone involved had a lot of fun. It will undoubtedly remain as a wonderful school memory for all those who participated or witnessed this remarkable production.


Friday 17 November 2023

MUN News

Last month, members of The High School Model United Nations team arrived at a Dublin Airport filled with thousands of Ireland rugby fans wearing green who were travelling to Paris.  Our destination was London and after a long morning of travel, which included one flight, one train ride, one tram ride, and seven sets of stairs, we finally reached the beautiful campus of Royal Russell School.  We stayed on site in the boarding school.  A total of thirty-nine schools from around the world gathered together for a Model United Nations conference.  These schools were divided into 80 "delegations," each representing a different country.  The High School represented Ghana.

During the conference, we debated various topics such as peace in Ukraine, the Mexican drug war, financing terrorist organizations, taxation of global corporations, deforestation, nuclear energy, abortion rights, gender equality, regulation of social media, territorial sovereignty in Antarctica, far-right groups, violence against women and girls, and justice for war crimes.  It was fascinating to hear different opinions from individuals who came from diverse backgrounds and countries.  While 30% of attendees were from Dublin the rest came from Spain, France, Germany, Greece, Norway, Nigeria, and the USA.

The conference provided us with an amazing opportunity to make friends from around the world and discuss how life as teenagers differs across countries.  The first day was dedicated to lobbying within our committees.  We collaborated with representatives from countries that shared similar views to ours in order to form alliances and draft resolutions addressing our common problems.

On the second and third days of the conference, we debated these resolutions and worked together to improve them.  The chairs in each committee then selected two resolutions for debate during a General Assembly session attended by everyone!  It was a huge accomplishment that one of our written resolutions was chosen for this prestigious debate.  Each country had an opportunity to vote on whether or not they supported passing this resolution based on their own national views - just like what happens at the real United Nations.

While it may seem somewhat futile for a group of 500 teenagers to pretend to be diplomats and attempt to solve problems that the actual United Nations struggles with, after witnessing the high level of debate and innovative solutions proposed, I am confident that the future is in capable hands.  Two members of our seven-person team won the best delegate in their committee.
Ciara Morton

Friday 27 October 2023

Black History In Irish History

 As we celebrate Black History Month, it's important to remember that the African diaspora's impact extends far beyond America and Africa. Ireland, a country known for its rich history and cultural diversity, has its own remarkable and often lesser-known history of people of African descent. In this article, we'll delve into the fascinating narrative of Irish Black history, shedding light on the lives, contributions, and challenges faced by this community.

The Historical Roots
Ireland's engagement with the African continent dates back centuries.  Historians have unearthed records of African presence in Ireland as far back as the 12th century, with individuals of African descent playing roles in various aspects of Irish society.

Music and Dance: A Unifying Force
One of the most captivating aspects of Irish Black history is its influence on traditional Irish music and dance. The fusion of African and Irish rhythms, melodies, and dance steps have given birth to a unique blend that has charmed audiences around the world.

Activism and Leadership
Irish Black history is also marked by remarkable individuals who have contributed to civil rights and social justice movements, both in Ireland and abroad. Figures like Richard Robert Madden, an Irish doctor who fought against the transatlantic slave trade, and Phil Lynott, the legendary lead singer of Thin Lizzy, who became a rock icon while challenging racial stereotypes.

Challenges and Progress
It's crucial to acknowledge the challenges faced by the Irish Black community over the years. Racism, discrimination, and social exclusion have been persistent issues. However, the community has continually strived for progress, making strides towards inclusivity and equality.

Celebrating Diversity
Today Ireland embraces its diverse population, including people of African descent. It's heartening to see numerous organizations, events, and initiatives dedicated to celebrating and promoting multiculturalism and understanding.  As we commemorate Black History Month, let's not forget the stories of the Irish Black community. Their history, contributions, and resilience are woven into the fabric of Ireland's past and present. By recognizing and celebrating this rich heritage, we honor the spirit of unity and diversity that Black History Month represents.
Phoebe Edunpeters

Monday 23 October 2023

Form 1 September Reads

Each month in our Form 1 English class we read novels for homework. Last month we chose books that have not yet been made into a film or TV show.  Here is a list of the books that we enjoyed.  Maybe you would like to read them too! 

A Spoonful of Murder by Robin Stevens - 3/5 stars
Scarlet and Ivy: The Lost Twin by Sophie Cleverly - 4/5 stars
Lily at Lisadell: Lily's Dream by Judi Curtain - 3/5 stars
Faraway Home by Marilyn Taylor - 5/5 stars
Dancing in the Dark, by Peter Prendergast - 4/5 stars
The Battle of ROAR! by Jenny McLachlan - 4.5/5 stars
Lola Rose by Jacqueline Wilson - 3.5/5 stars
The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer - 5/5 stars
How to Rob a Bank by Tom Mitchell - 3/5 stars
The Sacrifice Box by Martin Sewart - 3.5/5 stars
Arsenic for Tea by Robin Stevens - 3/5 stars 
Freeze, by Chris Priestley – 2/5 stars
The Ultimate Truth by Kevin Brooks – 3.5/5 stars 
Chalkline by Jane Mitchell – 4.5/5 stars 
Kensuke's Kingdom by Michael Morpugo –  5/5 stars 
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon – 3/5 stars
The Golden Swift by Lev Grossman – 3/5 stars
BRILLIANT by by Roddy Doyle – 5/5 stars  
Cool  by Michael Morpugo – 4/5 stars
Public Enemy Number Two by Anthony Horowitz– 5/5 stars  
Arthur Quinn  by Alan Early– 3.5/5 stars

Friday 6 October 2023

There and Back Again - Form 4 Hike

Just a few days shy of International Hobbit Day, a fellowship of High School pupils and staff bid farewell to the suburbs and made their way to the summit of Djouce Mountain, a steep climb off the Wicklow Way trail. This is the first in a series of challenges that pupils in Form 4 must complete as part of the Gaisce/President's Award. Dressed in suitable attire, they formed a long line, silhouetted against the darkening sky. No malevolent wind or low lying cloud could deter this band of happy hikers. All along the dim, misty mountain, the sound of High School voices rang out, telling stories of adventures had and yet to come, dreaming of their journey's end. A chill wind circled the summit while pupils enjoyed a long-expected rest, feasting until the food ran out and it was time to move on once more. One clear voice rising above the others descried the dragon-shaped cumulus cloud heading their way, but Mr Rankin dispelled their fears with one stern look. High spirits soon returned with the promise of a glowing fire and warm, dry beds, and the party of friends set off once again. The challenging descent was over in half the time just as a soft rain began to fall. Weary Wanderers one and all, they bid farewell to the majestic mountain taking the south road home, tired but content to have made it there and back again, just in time for supper.
Michelle Burrowes 

Thursday 14 September 2023

An Interview with Ella-Marie

Form 6 pupil, Ella-Marie, a member of The High School Choir, has released some of her own music on Spotify.   Fellow pupil Daisy Kirk Gillham caught up with her earlier this week to find out more about her latest release.  

What inspired you to start writing and recording songs in the first place? 

If I'm honest, it was always an outlet for me, like when I was young, I would write silly little songs if I were in trouble to taunt my parents, and there's video evidence!  But it was never anything serious. I started to get into it in about 2019 without even realizing and then when the pandemic hit in 2020 I found myself with all this new time and I thought: What do I like to do? And then I realized that writing was always where my mind went, and so I used every bit of time I had to write, or research what goals I could achieve, and that milestone system kept me going. It's a mindset I have kept: if I'm in a moment where I've got time to myself it's not my phone I pick up anymore, like it always used to be.  

How do you usually begin writing a new song? 

Honestly, I play piano and when I break down things like classical songs and really get into a composer's head its always crazy to me, because it’s as if they meticulously plan out everything that’s going to happen before writing. My process, most of the time, is a little messier. Sometimes I'm doing a classical piece and I hear an interesting chord and it instantly inspires something completely different in my head, or I make crazy chords I didn’t know existed but definitely had unbeknownst to me, and build from there. I have an idea page with unused lyrics in my songbook with a cross off system and so sometimes I use those lyrics. Other times the lyrics and melody come first, and I build the instrumental around that.  

What are your hopes/goals in the future? 

In the near future I have a few songs that I'm juggling with that I'd like to release. Looking forward I want to learn as much as I can about music, songwriting, and production as I can. I think it's so important to have knowledge of what you're doing whether you're behind the song, the production, the instrument, the microphone, or the staging. It's very easy to give up when you feel you can give no more, but the more you know the more you can give. The ultimate goal is that I can end up writing for other people while also putting in time to my own music, a good balance.  

What's a piece of advice you'd give to other pupils in the school hoping to write and record their own music? 

Something that I always thank myself for is never discarding an idea even if I hate it. Whether it’s a 10 second voice memo of figuring out a melody, a lyric you thought of on the bus to school, or something you saw that day, write it down! Keep it because it's so likely that you will use it, and if it genuinely is not to your standard in the future and you can't work it into anything, at least you have a progress marker. Another piece of advice I have is, if you are sitting down to write a song, finish it! Set yourself a date you want the bones of it to be done by, a time frame you can achieve, you might even surprise yourself and finish it sooner. With school for me it can take a week, but on a weekend, a half-term or break it could take a day. After you have the bones of a song its always so fun changing the lyrics that are just placeholders and expanding on the general arrangement. Always expanding your knowledge of your instruments is also crucial because it subconsciously translates into your writing.  

Thursday 11 May 2023

Alternative Artists at The High School

As part of our Media Studies class, we carried out an interview with two pupils in Form 6, Oscar Maguire and Jack O'Malley, who collaborated last summer on a music video for the former's song, Summer Storm’.  Here is what we learned about the multimedia project. 
Oscar was sitting in his room on a gloomy summer day and was inspired to write a song about it, picturing stormy weather, one of his first songs ever.  He describes his song writing process as like “writing a story”.  He starts off with the melody and then adds lyrics, thinking about the place and people in the story.  

Both Oscar and Jack have had experience in their fields of music and filmmaking. Oscar first started

playing music when he was in Form 5 at an Open Mic event - he enjoyed it so much that he began writing his own songs.  He feels that the Open Mic events are really great way to encourage people to perform and promote music, sometimes for the very first time.  He played piano from a young age and took up guitar in Form 4 and
composing music just came naturally - “[he] just had the knack”.   After he posted the song on SoundCloud and a few months later Jack contacted him about making a music video for it.  Jack has had experience in making music videos before for hia friends.   "This isn't my first video project", said Jack. "I used to make short films with my siblings when we were younger for fun and before Summer Storm I'd also made a few music videos for my friends Reuben and Alex. There wasn't much work experience available as I was in 4th Year during Covid but over the year I worked on a couple sets, I worked on a Spar ad and an ad for the Irish Cancer Society." 

When asked about the design concept for the video Jack said, "We chose to shoot the Summer Storm video in black and white
as we enjoy the aesthetic of old black and white photography and felt it would match the overall vibe of the song. " The two spent a day in Milltown filming the video, the same amount of time it took to create the song itself.   Jack has always been interested in movies and filmmaking for a long time and always wanted to make films. He says, "My favourite filmmaker is Paul Thomas Anderson as I've seen nearly all of his movies and have thoroughly enjoyed them all.  He's very good at creating complex and flawed characters that feel real and grounded.  These characters paired with his great cinematography makes all his movies both thought-provoking and entertaining.  He plans to do a film PLC next year and to study film at IADT after that.  Jack’s father is also a director in the film industry.  Oscar plans to take a year out next year and travel to “focus on music and work and just live life on my own” and then plans to go to Trinity to study Spanish and Sociology.  Ideally if his music career takes off, he can take a couple years to focus on that before college.  This summer Oscar plans to release an album.  He has quite a catalogue of songs ready to record but is focused on his exams at the moment.  You can watch Oscar and Jack's the completed video on You Tube here.
Saoirse Reilly and Ava O’Brien
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Wednesday 3 May 2023

National Climbing Representation

I started climbing when I was fourteen but became serious about climbing when I was sixteen and began training regularly with my friends for competitions in 2022. Most of the climbing I do is bouldering where you climb on short walls without ropes or protective equipment but with a crash pad below. I also climb outside, for example in Glendalough and the Scalp in Co Wicklow as well as Fair Head, Co Antrim. After placing third in the Irish Bouldering Championships in March 2022, I was offered a place on the Irish Youth Squad. We trained for competitions the following season starting in September. I won the Irish Youth Climbing Series and qualified for the Grand Final with the top climbers in Ireland and the UK competing against each other at Swindon. In 2023, the season started with the Irish Bouldering Championships again. I competed in the senior category so the competition was a lot tougher. I managed to place ninth on the day. I also competed in G-Force which is the biggest climbing competition in Ireland. I managed to make it so the semi-finals but am aiming for finals next season. A few weeks ago, The High School entered a team into the Irish Schools Climbing Competition. The top two teams and individuals in Dublin and Cork qualify for the finals. On the team was Jack McGinn, Oliver Davey, Max Holland, and myself. Unfortunately, our team just missed out on qualification, placing third. However, I qualified in the Individual category, so I will have the chance to represent the school on the May Bank Holiday weekend in the finals. I am also training for the Irish Lead Championships which will be held on 7 May. Lead climbing is roped climbing on higher walls, where you bring the rope up with you as you climb and clip it into the fixed carabiners on the way up. It can be difficult to find a balance between training and study with the Leaving Certificate due to start in a month. This means that I have to follow a strict plan and use all my time as efficiently as possible. Luckily, I have training facilities within half an hour of my house. Next season I intend to compete in the European Championships and the Junior category of the Youth World Cup.
Thomas Nickels

Tuesday 7 March 2023

Finding Joy in a Busy World

Joy is perhaps the most elusive yet valuable human emotion.  Sometimes it is found in the most unexpected places.  For myself and my twin sister, it was found on the sun-kissed streets of Malaga. 

That first day we strolled down what we called the ‘Spanish Grafton Street’ and took in the atmosphere of the local people.  There were old men outside little cafes on the corners of each street, with a cold Spanish ‘Estrella’ beer in their hands, enjoying each other's company and playing cards. Their deep roaring laughs filled the streets, and I would catch myself giggling when one of them lost and threw an overly dramatic tantrum.  I fell in love with the local people and I admired their quality of life.  They were so full of love and passion, and they had this humour between them that made me want to join in. Seeing these old men still enjoying the little things brought me joy. 

As I wandered down the street further the smell of caramelized nuts took over any other smell in the street like a smoke bomb, but instead filled with a sweet aroma.  I have never smelt something so heavenly and sweet in my seventeen years of living.  It lured me over to the little crack in the wall where they had wine-stained wooden barrels filled with hundreds of shiny, glazed nuts just like diamonds in a pirate's treasure box.  They were hypnotic to look at and I just could not resist.  The first crunch, as the glaze film broke like shards of glass, made my mouth water, followed by a slight tang from the salt layer underneath.  I know it is crazy to think that food can make your day, but truly it brought me so much joy.  I bought seven more bags to bring home to my parents as they had to try this heavenly new obsession of mine. 

One of the nights we were there just happened to be the night of San Juan, a religious festival in Spain.  It was a festival that welcomed the summer and left the spring months behind.  The festival consisted of several rituals where at one o'clock in the morning you had to jump over a bonfire to get rid of all the bad spirits.  You also had to wash your hands in the sea to cleanse your soul for the upcoming summer months.  Hundreds of people gathered on this beach just below the centre of Malaga city beside the port.  I watched as parents showed their kids how to wash their little hands in the sea, splashing each other and I listened to the screams of laughter coming from teeny toddlers running about.  Teenagers gathered with their friends to make bonfires and listen to music whilst welcoming in the summer months with a ‘cheers’ of cold cans.  It was incredible. Not a patch of sand could be seen.  It was crazy to me that all these people young and old, where at this beach until 3 o'clock in the morning, sharing this moment with each other.  I felt consumed by the Spanish culture and the passion they had for life. It was truly so heartwarming, and I fell in love with the love they have for each other. Seeing how they treat each other and celebrate their life brought me joy. 

Ever since that holiday, the Spanish culture has stuck with me.  I find myself unwinding after a long day on the couch watching ‘La Casa De Papel’, or showering listening to music like ‘Vamos a la Playa’.  I watch these shows and listen to these songs as it satisfies my longing to immerse myself more into the culture and it truly brings me joy.  I feel free and I can let go, escape into a different culture, a different part of the world.  Spanish food, the scenery, the love, passion and music all bring me joy.  That's where I escape to when I'm sick of being in Ireland. That’s where I feel most at peace and happy.  Spain is what brings me joy! 
Rebecca Collins

Tuesday 28 February 2023

A 6th Year's Advice to a Young Reader

It's another World Book Day and I am sure many of you have read several books such as Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, or even Sherlock Holmes.  You know who you are as a reader and you know your tastes.  If you are anything like me, you will not read a book that you cannot relate to in some way. so I am going to explain the impact that books have had in my life.  

Perhaps you are at a stage in life where you want to be different from everyone else, where some of you will go as far as listening to “Most girls” by Haillee Steinfeld.  But even you will look at some form of media to find someone like you.  

When I first realized that books serve a purpose as a door into a magical and different world, I never thought of it as a mirror.  But the more I found myself relating to the characters, the more I saw it as one.  I remember the first time I read a book about an immigrant in a different country who was as confused about her identity as I was.  I was utterly shocked; it was whiplash from all the basic characters with similar backgrounds.  I read the entire book in one day, feeling happier than ever that I was not alone in my experience.  

After that, I scoured every library for books about people of color with different identities or anyone with similar experiences.  I would encourage you to do much the same.  The W B Yeats Library at The High School has a wide variety of books, ranging from sports stars to spy novels and LGBT+ titles.  The impact that reading had throughout my teenage years is one I would not be the same without.  

A strong reading culture depends on a strong writing culture.  As I stated before, inclusivity is as essential as escape.  Many of you will want to write to escape your reality, some of you may never write at all as you would not want an escape, but the rare few of you might see a hole in the art that already exists.  You are not alone if you wish to bridge that gap.  

Many talented artists have had humble beginnings. For example, the Oscar nominated director of Eternals and Nomadland stated how she began and continues to write fan fiction.  Whole sections of the internet exist for the purpose of bridging gaps between popular media and their audience.  Though I should warn you to stay away from certain sections.  

I implore you to explore all that books have to offer; leave no stone unturned on your journey to find your own creative identity.  If on your journey through life, you see gaps, do not think twice about filling them.  I implore you to be the artist that you would look up to.  I implore you to embrace your creativity despite some people and aspire to inspire others.  

Lastly, I will keep this short as I can see some eyes glazing over, I encourage you to reflect on the influence of books on the wider world.  While looking into a mirror is enjoyable nad fulfilling, it is important to keep other cultures and parts of the world in mind.  Over 95% of the world's population live in countries where English is not the first language.  Yet books from these places only make up about 5% of sales.  

Do not worry, I am not encouraging you to learn a new language to read these books, rather encouraging you to explore.  Books about other cultures allow us to experience different lifestyles, give us insights into people that are different from us, letting us reflect on our own way of living.  

Discovering the world of literature can profoundly change someone’s life, just as it did mine.  I am going to leave you with a simple message: by discovering what is out there through literature and getting lost in a new world, it may just help you find yourself.  
Aadya Vig

Thursday 9 February 2023

TY Culture Module - Foods From Around the World

 One of the main elements of study in Form 4 is that subjects rotate every six weeks. This means a new teacher teaching a new aspect of the subject.  For my Form’s third Geography rotation, we were with Ms Gray studying different cultures, specifically India.  Last Monday was a highlight for me because we were to bring in various foods from around India, working either in groups or solo.  Some of the foods people brought in were coconut burfi, a sweet consisting of coconut, milk powder, and spices; chocolate barfi, a dessert of dark chocolate and a spiced white chocolate filling, and tarka dahl, a type of chickpea-based curry.  I brought in onion bhajis which are a type of spiced onion fritter served with a sweet tamarind chutney from east India.  Tamarind is a treacle-like substance found in seed pods on trees that has a very sour, zingy flavour not unlike a lemon. In the pre-colonial era, Indians would not have had access to lemons and limes so they used tamarind instead.  I will list the recipes for both the bhajis and the tamarind chutney below.  Overall the day was great fun and it was so interesting to explore the various flavours of India. 


2 onions, finely sliced 

100g gram flour 

½ tsp gluten-free baking powder (we don’t use baking powder in ours) 

½ tsp chilli powder 

½ tsp turmeric 

1 green chilli, deseeded, and very finely chopped 

vegetable oil for frying 


Soak the onion in cold water while you make the base mix.  Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, then add the chilli powder, turmeric, chopped chilli and a good sprinkling of salt.  Mix in about 100ml of cold water to make a thick batter – add a splash more if it feels too stiff. 

Lower heaped tablespoons of the bhaji mixture into the pan, a few at a time, and cook for a few mins, turning once, until they are evenly browned and crisp, so about 3-4 mins. Drain on kitchen paper, sprinkle with a little salt, and keep warm while you cook the rest.  

(NB: In the original recipe they make a raita to go with. We use the tamarind chutney instead) 

Sweet Tamarind Chutney- From Simple Indian by Atul Kochhar 

Ingredients (makes 400g) 

150g dried tamarind pulp 

150g grated jaggery (a type of cane sugar) or palm sugar 

1 tsp chilli powder 

1 tsp toasted coriander seeds 

1 tsp toasted aniseed (or star anise) 

1 tsp toasted cumin seed (for the toasting we pan toasted all 3 then ground them up together) 

1 ½ tsp salt 

2 tbsp chopped coriander leaves (this is a garnish so optional) 


Soak the tamarind pulp in 250ml hot water for 20 minutes, then strain through a fine sieve into a bowl; discard the residue. Add the grated jaggery, chilli powder, toasted spices, and salt to the tamarind extract. If the chutney is too thick stir in a little water. Cool before serving garnished with coriander leaves. Eat the chutney on the day it is made (within 24 hours).  This isn’t in the recipe but taste after making and add more sugar or salt to balance.
Michael Binchy 

Wednesday 11 January 2023

J is for Joy - Thoughts on my final year at NYO

Let me ask you a question. 
Who in their right mind would celebrate New Year's day in a cramped hall in Kilkenny College with a hundred other young people, most of whom you've met only three days prior? Guilty. When I was twelve years old, my mother packed me a suitcase, shoved me in the car, drove me down to Kilkenny and left. I, three months into Form 1, royally done with social interaction and utterly ready for a well-deserved Christmas break, was disgusted. 

I feel some context is urgently needed. Hello, I'm the girl with the violin. If you've seen me around the school building, you probably see my instrument case before you spot me.  At seventeen years of age, I'm lucky to know what I want to study, I'm lucky to know what I want to do in the future and I'm lucky I know what I'm going to do for the rest of my life. But as you probably know by now, with every hobby you've tried out, with everything you've ever committed to, it's never that easy. When I was twelve years old, I'd already had experience that I would never have gotten without music.  Competitions, concerts, recitals, travelling abroad, playing chamber music - to me, it was all the same.  Practise, practise, practise. Play, play, play. Make the famous "I can't go out, I need to practise," excuse and then sit at home and do nothing. The one thing I had never experienced before was playing in a symphony orchestra, and I was decidedly not looking forward to it.  

Well, you know what they say about mothers always being right.  I auditioned for the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland, was among 105 or so teenagers from across Ireland who got admitted, and embarked on my first residential, seven-day course.

Two hours. Two hours in, and I was no longer worrying about if I'd practised enough, if I'd miss my parents, if I'd make friends. For someone who detests change, is a raging perfectionist, and lives inside a comfort zone so small that I'm essentially caging myself into a corner, I cannot tell you what happened in those two hours. But I can tell you with absolute certainty that never in my nine years of violin playing had I ever experienced anything like I experienced that week.  After those two hours, when I'd settled in, hurried off to my first rehearsal and tentatively made friends with two girls, that was it. Life is a series of moments. We don't go through it mentally documenting down every detail because we know it will be important later. No, we just go about our daily routines, and suddenly there are moments. Let me tell you about just one.

My first rehearsal with the full orchestra was New Year's Eve, 2017.  Now, I don't know what you've heard about symphony orchestras, but let me tell you.  They are loud.  We had spent two days rehearsing in smaller sections, but this was the day where we would meet our conductor for the first time, and play through as a complete orchestra. I will never forget this moment for as long as I live. Maestro Gearóid Grant strode into the room, told the people from Cork to stand up, got the entire orchestra to hiss at them while saying some words I am not able to repeat on paper, and sent us crashing into Dvorak's New World Symphony. Again, I don't know how much you know about classical music. I certainly knew next to nothing about repertoire and symphonies back then, but Dvorak's 9th is a world-changing way to start. 
Playing in a symphony orchestra for the first time is a spiritual experience. The sound that envelops you is overwhelming, you can barely hear yourself, you're narrowly missing stabbing your desk partner in the eye, struggling desperately with the notes. It's messy, crazy, and probably the worst we ever play, but it's glorious. So there I was, playing along, sort of terrified, sort of in awe, and then the fourth movement began. For the first time ever, I heard the famous trumpet melody shine through. The sound was triumphant, everyone around me was grinning, Gearóid was dancing up on the podium, and everything felt - it felt as if everything I'd questioned about music, every time I refused to practise, every time I considered giving up - it all made sense right there and then. 

This was the first moment in my life that I thought to myself, "This is why I do music."

There's something really special about feeling at home. There's something really special about returning to a place and people year-in and year-out, and knowing there's nowhere else you'd rather be.  You see, it wasn't as if that moment turned a switch on inside my head and made me decide right there and then that music was it for me. Of course not. We don't actually live inside YA novels, you know. However, after that first moment, I knew that I would do whatever it took to feel like that again.  I knew that I could not let this feeling go, and this is the most important thing the National Youth Orchestra has taught me. 

Music is really, really tough. As is everything you do. You go through your off-seasons, you have thousands of days where you wonder why you are still doing this, you wonder why you can't just let it all go and have fun on Friday nights instead of trudging along to your lessons. You burn out, you lose friends, you're forced to push yourself because no one else will do it for you. But you love it. Because for every time where you want the ground to swallow you up because you've made a fool of yourself, there's a moment like I had, with the National Youth Orchestra. And when you've experienced that, you will chase it again, and again, because it is so worth it.

I've just returned from my last Winter course ever. I have one more in the Summer, and then I will have reached the upper age limit of the orchestra. My first course post-COVID, there are no words to express the week that I had. It's unconventional, and frankly very strange, but everyone feels it. "The J", as we dub it, is ours, in all its incredulous beauty. From the minimum four cartons of Kulana apple juice we down a day, and the way we all sit around doing the Circle K Spin 'n Win hoping to get something from the petrol station across the road, to the ridiculous house cup challenges of drawing staff family portraits, the infamous New Year's Eve section dance off, and the Summer's rounders tournament. From being the youngest member of the orchestra at the age of twelve, with no expectations and a truckload of fear, till now. The friends we make for life, the passion we share, the mutual understanding and support we give each other. It might not be much to you, but I hope you find something like this. I hope there is something in your life that gives you as much joy as the J gives me.
When we stood on the stage last Wednesday night after performing Mahler's 1st Symphony, and the entire audience got on their feet. When I took in the sheer happiness and pride that was reflected back to me on every single musician's face. When our conductor Mihhail Gerts presented me with his flowers.  I have never been in love, but I think it would feel just like this.
Daimee Ng