I HAD the honour and privilege of being the Director of the Cork School of Music (CSM) from 1992 to 2016.
It was ten years ago this month, in September, 2007, that the new CSM building was opened in Union Quay, by the then Minister for Education and Science, Mary Hanafin.
I’m not going to risk getting bogged down detailing “the saga” of that move because, thanks to the work of numerous reporters, and the unstinting interest of Editor, Maurice Gubbins, it unfolded in the Evening Echo over nearly a decade.
It’s a long and colourful story, involving everything from thousands gathering in Emmet Place to chant their support for the project, to the government being served with a petition signed by more than 10,000 Corkonians.
For me, the ‘highs’ were the five ‘heroes’:
1: The staff — teaching, administrative, caretaking and cleaning — who, while the CSM spent six years in a variety of temporary accommodations, ensured the standard of the student learning experience never faltered, and the programme of performances that the CSM offers the city of Cork and its environs continued to grow in both quality and quantity.
The reputation of the CSM’s then two full-time courses (BMus and MA) continued to grow despite all the challenges, became primus inter pares nationally, and acclaimed internationally for the integrity of academic as well as practical elements that provided meaningful access for graduates to a wide variety of careers.
The fact that the new building enabled the CSM to develop full-time courses in both Theatre & Drama Studies and Popular Music ensured the growth in full-time student numbers required to justify the provision of the new building was achieved well ahead of target.
In tandem, and critically, the bedrock of the CSM’s raison d’être — its 1st-level, 2nd-level and Continuing Education provisions — continue to underpin its 3rd- and 4th-level courses, and provide the reason why the people of Cork are so proud of their CSM;
2. The students and their parents, who continued to achieve locally, nationally and internationally, and never lost faith in their CSM;
3. The CSM’s Management Team: Aiveen Kearney (Head of School), Dr Gabriela Mayer (Head of Keyboard Studies), Candace Whitehead (Head of String Studies — now Joan Scannell), John O’Connor (Head of Wind, Percussion, Voice & Drama Studies), and Maria Judge (Head of Musicianship & Academic Studies) — who were the best colleagues one could hope to have. The show was kept on the road, even as we occupied rabbit hutch-sized offices in the attic of Moore’s Hotel — and more than a few laughs kept us both sane and friends.
4. The Project Manager (Peter O’Shea) of the Private P in the PPP (Public Private Partnership) that saw the building delivered within budget, and nearly two months ahead of schedule — we could never have hoped to move into the new building in late September, 2007, and successfully commence a new academic year. During the two-year design-build process, Peter repeatedly demonstrated the ability to provide us with everything we wanted and needed that was realistic and achievable — and when he needed to say he couldn’t, he managed to do it in the most acceptable of ways;
5. The building! No physical structure in itself ensures high standards and extent of creation in cultural education, but, my goodness, the new CSM building inspired and facilitated an explosion of activity and the realization of long-held dreams! The Curtis Auditorium and Stack Theatre (the former with its exceptional acoustics, the latter with its flexibility) have become focal points for Cork’s incredibly rich cultural fabric, and the partnerships that the CSM has with a myriad of other organisations ensures that Cork and its environs have access to a truly extraordinary palette of music and drama performances.
Did we get our specification right? Well, yes and no — but almost! The profile of full-time student growth changed subsequent to our planning so some pinch points have developed. Nevertheless, what can’t be “specified” — that students will be inspired by the potential of a building to explore synergies and creative partnerships with other students — is something that one and all offer profound thanks for as they cope with any short-comings. The fact the CSM doesn’t have a student retention problem exacerbates some of the timetabling problems, but I don’t notice credit being given to areas of education that don’t haemorrhage students at huge cost to the State …
The lows? Well, I’m not going to pretend the six wilderness years (2001-2007) were easy — not least when we should have had our new building by 2003! The first two years were characterised by dwindling hope for one and all; the next two by sheer despair.
During the final two, though, we experienced excitement and optimism as a magnificent edifice arose on Union Quay. Apart from the fact that I’m going to continue to live in Cork until I shuffle off this mortal coil, I’ve learned to button it about the negatives (well, some of the time!), and why shouldn’t we do this because Cork has a conservatory that is a national leader, and acclaimed throughout the world not merely for the quality of its building, but for structuring learning in music and drama in a way that is the aspiration of the majority of institutions.
But: guard it, Cork, because it’s a flower that has taken 139 years to cultivate; and, like all flowers, tender in a socio-economic climate that is capable of excusing philistinism...