Classical music fills the air at 118th Feis Ceoil

More than 5,000 teenagers will participate in 180 competitions over the next 11 days

If you walk past the RDS today and listen carefully you will hear the faint sound of music; a staccato of scales and songs drifting over the air of Ballsbridge.

This is the tune of thousands of school children at the 2014 ESB Feis Ceoil, where musical instruments are tamed and where singers compete as solo artists or battle it out in group-strength choirs.

It is a kaleidoscope of school uniforms clustered together to celebrate an age old event. In short, it is the future of classical music in Ireland.

Now in its 118th year the Feis Ceoil is impressive in its scope and popularity, even before you get to the often extraordinary talent on show.


In this small corner of Ireland, a country whose sense of musical identity can often be limited to traditional, more than 5,000 teenagers are more about Brahms than Barney McKenna.

Over the course of 11 days they arrive from across the island and compete in over 180 individual competitions.

"It's always a surprise to people, the breadth and the scope of the Feis," says chief executive Laura Gilsenan.

“Maybe there is a sense that there is not much going on in the world of classical music.

“People think that the Feis Ceoil is traditional music and you have to say no it’s not, it’s classical.

“We want to put the focus on the amount of talent that is out there. The majority of Irish musicians will have come through the Feis.”

True enough. In the past, as young students, pianists John O'Conor and Finghin Collins as well as opera singers Celine Byrne and Cara O'Sullivan all started out here. But it's not just about fostering the next generation of talent, there is a general love of the genre.

“It’s also made audiences of people because as they perform and become familiar with classical music they become the audiences of the future,” says Ms Gilsenan.

Christoper Ellis, a 16-year-old cellist from Raheny in Dublin, has played in competition here since he was seven-years-old and is quick to explain the virtues.

“It’s hugely important, to prepare for something and to have something that motivates you,” he says, and in his case motivation is carrying him toward a place at the prestigious Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris when he finishes school.

“It’s [about] getting used to performing, giving you more experience with being on stage and dealing with nerves.”

Today was the turn of the school choirs where a number of categories fought it out for a place in various finals.

At the post-primary mixed voice group, adjudicator and conductor Peter Broadbent considered the performances and offered advice of such a technical nature it reinforced just how seriously these students take things. And how seriously this thing takes students.

Addressing a room of about 200 people he explained that choral displays were about “communicating the music as singers”; it was about delivering good diction with vocal instruments, about “tasting the language”.

"Listening to some of the choirs today I have been staggered that these are school choirs," he said, before announcing that the Alice Yoakley cup, itself named after a choir teacher, was the prize of St Paul's High School from Newry, Co Down and its 46 finely tuned children.

What does this mean for school kids? One of them, 16-year-old Stacey McCann, decided it was the product of staying back after classes or working through lunch breaks - long hours where dedication and ability appear in abundance.

The finalists in choir are Belvedere College junior choir; Wesley College senior choir; Scoil Mhuire Choir; St. Paul's High School; St Brigid's GNS Cabinteely; Mount Anville first year choir; St Brigid's NS Castleknock and Scoil Chronain, Swords.

Winners in other categories today included Leah Redmond (junior vocal recital); Eugene Alves (Clyde Twelve Trees Cup); Aisling Reilly (double base); Zoe Nagle (junior violoncello B) and Jessica Collazo (junior violoncello C).

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times