An American music teacher who came to Ireland as an immigrant, is now teaching music to children living in the Mosney direct provision centre in county Meath.
To help her meet the demand for instruments, Heather Oakes is appealing for pre-loved trumpets, drums, tin whistles saying ‘all are assured of a good home.’
The children are benefiting from music lessons from teacher Heather Oakes, who herself came to live in Ireland as an immigrant.
Now married and living in Dundalk, Heather began’ ‘Grow Music’ in 2016 and said, “I became aware of a small group of volunteers setting up a Creative Arts Group for the children and adults in Direct Provision in Mosney.”
“The opportunity to make a difference in the local community led to the first trip there with a couple of violins and a guitar. My children came too with a few footballs and frisbees!”
The response from the children was instant; “This visit was a rousing success. The kids were asking when could they keep the instruments so they could play them during the week when the volunteers weren't available.”
She has begun an instrument drive to fund buying instruments that can be left in Mosney for the children to enjoy. “All instruments are welcome and we can even repair them,” she added.
“When I founded Grow Music, I was struck that as an immigrant to Ireland myself, I'd been given a great gift by my parents in the States with music.”
Heather, who is originally from the Bay area of Northern California said, “I learned how to read music before English, and I really do believe it is a language that all can speak, even if with a different accent or style.
“Here I am, on the other side of the world, and I'm making my living doing something that transcends borders, language, citizenship. And I love it,” she said.
She says music, “is the most basic of all languages. Before a baby forms words, it sings. Its mother can tell by the sounds, pitch, and rhythm just what it's trying to say.”
“The first week, we mostly focused on getting a good sound out of open strings and taught the kids a song we use in class to talk about rhythm called Tingalayo.
“The second week, the kids asked could they learn a tune and some asked for ‘Twinkle’ or ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ by name so we did those. Their English is mainly very understandable and what we don't know in words is communicated by the physicality of having the instruments.”
She says music has been “an instant ice breaker. The kids love to see us coming and try to lay possession to their favourite instrument immediately!”
Their parents can also go to the classes but they tend to be “a little more shy but we get lots of smiles especially when we make sure even the littlest kids get a turn.”
She does not know the journeys the children and their families have made to get to Ireland but says she hopes the music, “helps by being a welcome distraction. I know the teens will retreat to a corner to try a new instrument out so they can hear themselves and take a good segment of time on it to master a new skill.”
She has a room to store the instruments and would like to build a stock of “10-12 violins, 5-10 guitars, ukuleles, a newer keyboard with better range, some wind and brass instruments as a visiting trumpet was a huge hit!.”
She also wants tin whistles or recorders, “and really anything with which music can be created.
“The teens are really interested in pop music, so a speaker, microphone, ways to play current music, maybe karaoke to sing along would be a dream and help with English.”