Did you know you could borrow musical instruments from Cork's libraries?

Libraries may be places where silence is golden, but a music initiative is really making waves across County Cork, reveals MARY HASSETT
Did you know you could borrow musical instruments from Cork's libraries?
Getting in some ukulele practice for their Christmas Variety Concert are pupils from St Matthias National School, Ballydehob, with Junior teacher, Margaret Connelly.

SOME promising musician might one day write a song in praise of Cork County Library’s wonderful Sound Initiative project.

This unique scheme, headed up by Project Manager Deirdre Murphy, encourages library members to borrow musical instruments from their local branch or from the Library Headquarters on Carrigrohane Road in Cork.

The song could tell the story of excited school-children eager to start practising on the shiny new ukuleles they borrowed for their Christmas concert.

There could be a verse about the talented musician who can hardly wait to get outside the library door to try out a new guitar. During the summer, he often sits on a bench in the nearby Lee Fields, playing to his heart’s content. Staff sometimes wonder about his circumstances.

“You would always be reaching out to people who don’t have the means to ever buy their own instruments,” says Deirdre.

“By having more instruments, you can increase the inclusive nature of the scheme.

The Sound Initiative scheme started out under the banner of the Creative Ireland programme, which was introduced by the Government to foster the cultural development of everyone in the country.

“Someone in Cork County Council asked why the County Library couldn’t lend out musical instruments, and so the call went out in early 2017, asking the public to donate musical instruments they were no longer using,” says Deirdre.

The scheme started off on a pilot basis, but it quickly became an integral and much loved feature of the Cork County Library lending service.

“I don’t think there is anywhere else in the country where you can just borrow an instrument and bring it home,” points out Deirdre.

“You borrow on your library card and the lending time is three weeks, the same as with book lending.”

All the donated musical instruments are catalogued so that each have their own bar code and can be scanned in the same way as a library book.

Sometimes, the lending time can be extended if there is no waiting list, allowing a person longer to practice and hone their musical skills.

The good news for Cork City Library users is that they too can avail of the scheme. They simply need to borrow and return the musical instrument to the County Library Headquarters adjoining the County Hall.

The Sound Initiative scheme started off with 30 musical instruments donated by the public. Thanks to a recent grant, the County Library now has a total of 140 instruments that it can lend out.

Among the instruments for loan are violins which are suitable for all ages from tiny tots to adults. There is also a selection of guitars for children and adults, including two electric guitars.

“The two most popular requests are for banjos and keyboards.

“All ages love the banjo but it’s probably mainly adults that borrow them the most,” says Deirdre.

The County Library also has a selection of adult and child size button accordions, a drum practice pad, mandolins, bodhrans and ukuleles.

On a practical basis, the Sound Initiative programme allows people to try out a particular instrument before paying out a significant sum of money for an instrument of their own.

“A lot of donations from the public were unwanted Christmas gifts that no-one was playing and that people wanted to go to a good cause,” says Deirdre.

“One woman had bought a beautiful violin and then realised that it was a bit harder to learn than expected and gave up on it.”

Sometimes, there are sad stories behind the donations, such as the case of the man who gave up his 12-string guitar because failing eyesight meant that he kept breaking the strings.

He took comfort in the knowledge that his beloved instrument would be shared and cherished by other music lovers.

During November and early December, a lot of mothers contact the County Library looking to borrow keyboards so that their children can try them out before finalising their letter to Santa.

Deirdre often gets grateful emails or calls from mothers whose children were able to avail of a number of the small size violins.

“The children would grow out of the really small violins very quickly and the mothers were able to come back and look for the next size up,” she adds.

The Sound Initiative project was recently shortlisted for the 2019 Excellence in Local Government Awards.

Added to this, Deirdre’s talk at a recent Creative Ireland Conference went down a treat with the Head of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

As a result, the Sound Initiative project was awarded a grant of nearly €7,000 to help the scheme reach its full potential.

A delighted Deirdre said: “I was able to buy 30 ukuleles, five keyboards, banjos, bodhrans, another mandolin and a harp.

“The ukuleles are great as they are easy to learn.

“The harp is too big and expensive to loan out but it could be used in workshops as it is very good for people who feel they can’t learn music at all.”

St Matthias National School, of Ballydehob, recently borrowed ten brand new ukuleles for their Christmas Variety Show. The children are busy learning to play You Are My Sunshine for the instrumental scenes.

“We plan to follow up with a new instrument from the library next term,” says Margaret Connelly, the school’s Junior teacher.

That’s music to Deirdre Murphy’s ears.

For more information, see www.corkcoco.ie/library-services or contact your local County Library branch.

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