New music degree to create a galaxy of Cork stars

JOHN O’CONNOR, Head of Pop|Jazz|Trad|Voice & Drama Studies at CIT Cork School of Music, explains how a new course at the college will add to its burgeoning reputation
New music degree to create a galaxy of Cork stars
Picture: Michael O'Sullivan /OSM PHOTO

CIT’s Cork School of Music has been a jewel in Cork’s crown since 1879 when it became the first municipal school of music in the British isles.

The current signature building on Union Quay replaced a purpose-built 1950s facility shared by RTÉ for half a century.

Today’s structure, with its distinctive glass cube at its top left-hand corner, opened in 2007 following a long campaign by Cork’s musical community, and accommodates more than 3,000 students of music and drama.

It has an international reputation as a superb facility for performing arts education and for ten years housed the world’s largest fleet of Steinway grand pianos, recently overtaken by an American conservatory.

The BMus degree at CSM has provided a top-flight training and qualification for a broad range of musicians for more than 20 years. Graduates populate national and international orchestras, chamber groups, music & theatre school faculties, Defence Forces Bands, and a myriad of other musical contexts.

The addition of BA courses in Theatre & Drama Studies and Popular Music seven years ago created a wonderful creative and performing melting pot with an ever growing community of students and staff. The School of Music presents morew than 200 public performances per annum, both created in-house and by visiting performers from all over the world.

It became obvious as we tracked our graduates’ career trajectories that a significant number were finding employment and success in the professional musical theatre industry via post-graduate study in the UK.

Many of our staff are active as musical theatre professionals and have observed over decades the steady stream of school leavers to musical theatre colleges in London in the absence of suitable training in Ireland.

It took four years from conception through development and validation by internal and external expert panels to bring it to realisation but, in September, 2019, our first cohort of 24 students will embark on a four-year, honours, level-8 BA in Musical Theatre.

Centred on an intensive training in the ‘triple-threat’ skills of singing, acting and dancing, students will be selected on the basis of talent and potential to join the industry as performers.

Musical theatre is booming in popularity with a proliferation of professional tours and an unprecedented number of amateur community shows, some of breathtaking standard.

Every town, village, and parish has a stage school, and primary and secondary schools have realised the tremendous benefit to students and local communities of annual musical productions.

On their Bluetooth headphones, teenagers are just as likely to be streaming the latest cast recording from Broadway – The Prom, Heathers, Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen, and Waitress, as listening to the latest Billie Eilish or Lewis Capaldi single.

Their parents are listening to modern classics like Wicked, Book of Mormon, and Les Miserables, and all are captivated by new productions of the great twentieth century touchstones — West-Side Story, Cabaret, 42nd Street, and Sweeney Todd.

Even the ultimate shrine of snobbery and elitism, ‘the Opera’, has embraced musical theatre as an equal artform, and every opera season, from San Francisco to Vienna, now has a classic musical, Guys and Dolls, Carousel, Fiddler on the Roof, or Oklahoma up on the pedestal with Puccini and Wagner.

So, our two dozen neophytes, the brightest and best from local stage schools such as CADA, the Montforts, Performers Academy, and Cork Arts — and their counterparts from all over Ireland — where they have probably spent five to ten years intensively training after school with unbelievably talented and dedicated teachers, step into the dream in September.

They will spend every waking moment living and breathing musical theatre. They will find and cultivate their adult voices, developing a vocal range that can handle anything from Gilbert & Sullivan to heavy metal. They will learn how to act and bring to life a myriad of characters from Frankenstein to Mary Magdalen — ready to break hearts in eight shows a week. And they will acquire, every day, dancing and movement skills that will allow them to transcend the ordinary; becoming the Children of Lir, Billy Elliot, or a Chorus Line. They will learn to sing in ensemble, to pick pockets, to ride broomsticks and to sell newspapers on street corners.

Each year they will experience a quasi-professional production environment, spending a typical six-week period in a rehearsal room and theatre with professional directors, choreographers, musical directors, designers, technicians — ‘the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd’.

Talent is a gift and unmistakable when nurtured. CIT and the Cork School of Music’s mission, to provide ‘career-focused education’ means initiating this BA in Musical Theatre.

We will take this talent and add skills, discipline, inspiration, and the motivation to become the best you can be, so that new generations can follow stars such as Killian Donnelly, Michael McCarthy, Irene Warren, Cian McCarthy, and Molly Lynch to Broadway and the West End and a glittering career in Musical Theatre.

Applications accepted at using code CR130 until May 1.

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