Musical Youth Foundation strikes a chord with young people from inner-city Dublin
Set up four years ago by Chris Maher, MYF offers free guitar lessons and musical instruments
“Learning the guitar has made me a lot more organised and a lot more confident,” Daryl Ward (16) says. Ward is taking time between classes at his school, Ringsend College in Dublin, to talk about the guitar lessons he’s been taking for almost three years now.
“They made me organised because I thought, I have to have a certain place for my guitar in my bedroom, and I have to keep it in order. And they have helped me focus better at school.”
Daryl Ward is the featured subject of a three-minute documentary about Musical Youth Foundation, a charity that provides free guitar lessons and instruments to young people in inner-city Dublin. Established by Chris Maher, it is about to mark its fourth anniversary.
Maher himself left school when he was 15, before he sat any State exams. “I don’t regret my decision at all. There was nothing else I wanted to learn. I wanted to be doing. It was just a lightbulb moment,” he explains cheerfully, sitting in a little room off the main corridor in Ringsend College.
“Obviously, my parents weren’t happy,” he adds. “I got a job in a pub right away, and became an expert at making cocktails, and worked in the bar industry for a while. It may have been illegal to be working in a bar at 15, but that was then.”
He went on to work for Microsoft, and by the time of the boom, was working as a sales manager in advertising. “I was on a six-figure salary, and had a team of 10 under me.”
He also by then had the car he’d always wanted: a VW Beetle. “Everything seemed very plastic and fake to me. And I didn’t want to be one of those people sitting in the pub giving out about the state of the country. I wanted to use my skills to do something better for the community and society.”
‘Bit the bullet’
So at the end of 2006, Maher “bit the bullet” and gave up the job. He set up the annual Dublin Soul Festival, a two-day summer event in Merrion Square, featuring bands starting out. “Thirty thousand people came through the gates in two days this year.” Children went free, and the suggested donation from adults was €5.
“The idea was that the Soul Festival would fund the work I wanted to do with Musical Youth Foundation,” he explains. It hasn’t worked out that way. Raising the funds for cultural events in a recession is difficult, even with input such as they have had, from Dublin City Council and, this year, from the Gathering.
“Charities are as cut-throat when it comes to money as any other kind of business. I had to sell my car one year to fund the festival – the VW Beetle. That’s a touchy subject,” he sighs.
The Musical Youth Foundation works with eight centres in inner-city Dublin – mainly community and resource centres, including Pearse Street Resource Centre and Ringsend College. They have 10 projects running.
“The idea is to offer free guitar lessons and instruments to young people who want to learn,” Maher says. “We’re also doing some singing work, but we don’t call it choir, because that’s not cool.” At first, the teachers were unpaid volunteers. “We soon learned that was a bad idea, because they wouldn’t turn up if they had a paying gig somewhere else.”
The other, more important, issue was commitment and consistency. “A lot of these kids have difficult home lives where adults are letting them down constantly. They’re used to being let down constantly by adults. So they need to have teachers they can rely on.”
Maher also stresses that “all the music teachers give more than the time they’re paid for. They are brilliant.”
The teachers take about 12 in a group. Students who don’t have guitars are provided with one by MYF, which they can take home. To date none have been abused or vanished; if the student decides they don’t want to continue, they return the guitar. “We also bring in musicians to perform for the kids,” Maher says.
This year so far, MYF has worked with 100 young people, of both genders, and the numbers are growing every year.
Daryl Ward is now helping other people in his group to learn guitar chords. He now wants to make a career in music, perhaps as a sound engineer. “It has made me more confident. I feel more comfortable with myself. I can talk to people more easily now.”