Trevor Darmody, proprietor of the Waterford Academy of Music and Arts at Passage Cross, has a clear vision when it comes to teaching young children: combine a fun and inspiring approach with a lively and inclusive atmosphere and you will most likely instill a love and passion for the arts that will last a lifetime.
Trevor established Flying Fingers Guitar School in 2003 and his wife Denise came on board a short time later, as ukulele teacher. After a number of years operating as Flying Fingers, the hard-working couple realised they’d identified a unique niche in the local music and arts world.
“At the time, I had a recording studio in my house (in fact, I had nearly the entire downstairs of my house taken over with music) and we also had a place in Catherine Street and the Community Rooms in Ardkeen. We were going between the three of them, which was chaotic, trying to bring equipment between them all the time.
“We had an idea to bring as many of the arts disciplines as possible under the one roof. Typically you’d have a guitar school, a drama and dance school, art classes all separate from one another and we wanted to gather them all together. So we decided to take the plunge and purpose build our own school, out at Passage Cross, in two stages, rechristening the school the Waterford Academy of Music & Arts in 2010 when we introduced the dramatic arts to the prospectus.
“It was a bit of a risk, alright, not to mention a huge investment: the building cost around €300,000. We didn’t have any funding or grants so we are deeply indebted to my own and Denise’s family for the way they rowed in behind us. But it’s going good, especially when you consider the times we’re living in.”
Originally from Griffith Place, Trevor’s family moved to Earlscourt when he was a child and the former Mount Sion and De La Salle College pupil says he was a relative ‘late starter’ when it came to music.
“There are no musicians in my family, though I do remember when I was a kid my Dad trying to teach himself the guitar, quite badly, as it happens. He’d whistle the tune and then try to work out the chord and then there’d be silence for about ten seconds ’til he worked out the next chord. But I was totally intrigued by this and I’d often sit listening to him.
“Music wasn’t a big deal in our house. I didn’t pick up an instrument myself until I was about 14 or 15 and I remember I found it very hard to find teachers at that time. There wasn’t a school as such that would specialise in teaching beginners. There were fellows teaching in their houses but that was hit and miss. You could happen upon a great teacher or maybe not. And it wasn’t all that appropriate – you might find yourself sitting in their kitchen learning guitar while the dinner was being made around you.
“What I wanted to do myself was set up something that was specifically for children and that was appropriate and safe.”
The 7,000 sq ft, purpose-built facility located just off the Dunmore Road houses some of the most technologically advanced facilities for music training in the south east, not to mention about 350 students and 30 tutors.
“We’re teaching everything from art, photography and drama to rhythm/drumming, guitar, piano (practical and traditional), voice, choral, rock bands, bass, violin, trumpet, ukulele and recording engineering. We would have two different approaches: a student can learn to play an instrument/sing/dance/act for its own very worthwhile recreational value or proceed with their graded examinations. In general we take the approach that balances the student’s happiness with what produces the most effective results.
“We teach instruments to kids aged 8 upwards, right up to adults – I have a 64 year old man doing guitar with me at the moment. But we do have specific programmes for the younger kids, such as piano or ukulele for those aged 5 and over and then our Kindermusik ‘discovering music’ programme for the Under 5s.
Trevor’s wife Denise is the instructor on the Kindermusik programme and, as the mother of two toddlers, she’s been known to take her work home on occasion.
“Denise is the backbone of the school. Everyone comes to her so she has to know everything about every course, which is no mean feat. It’s not everyone that can be good with people, can be good with the kids, but she’s a natural. Without her, there wouldn’t be any school I reckon.
“Aside from all the administrative stuff, she teaches our Kindermusik programme and she’ll often prepare and practice her material at home with our own kids (3-year-old Samantha and Mike who is 18 months). The kids at that age soak it up like a sponge. Often I’d be playing guitar in the kitchen and Samantha will come along and strum the guitar in perfect time while I’m playing a chord. I didn’t teach her to do it – I presume she picked it up from watching me.
“The Kindermusik is great because the parent and child do the class together and then they have a CD and instruments to work on at home. It’s very family orientated – the idea is that you spend time with your child playing the instruments. It wouldn’t work with just the kid doing it alone.
Most of the children’s courses at the school are group based, which Trevor believes is an environment that children thrive in the most since it they help to motivate each other as well as enjoy it the social occasion.
“I know when I was a kid you didn’t go to a music class with your friends – and certainly not with your mother or father in tow. These days, parents are much more on the ball. They realise that it’s an investment in their kid and it’s really of value to the child as they get older. Plus, parents are very keyed in to the fact that when the child’s brain is developing, music can make a big difference.”
“When I was learning guitar as a teenage, I found it was very solitary. When you’re out there as a musician it’s a very sociable thing and a great thing to have in your life but it’s hard for kids to appreciate this when they’re just going to an adult’s house once a week for a lesson. That can be quite intimidating for kids.
“But if they’re with kids their own age I find they tend to stick at it longer – they help one another out and there’s a bit of healthy competition there as well. With the school, we’ve created a little community of young musicians. Even in the school’s waiting area, there are instruments scattered around and they can pick them up and have a chat, get to know each other there before they come in to the lesson.
“My whole philosophy is that it has to be about the kid: first and foremost, the student has to be having fun. Talent plays a part in any student’s success as a musician, but I have always been of the belief that it has much more to do with desire. Some students don’t even start out because they are convinced that they don’t have enough talent, which is a shame. I’ve always felt that if you want something strongly enough and have access to the correct information and training, that you can achieve anything.”
The dance and drama students of the Waterford Academy of Music and Arts will present their summer show at Garter Lane on 18th and 19th June in what promises to be a show for all the family.
“This year’s summer show is called ‘The Storybook’, since it incorporates a variety of classic stories. It will feature our Drama and Dance students, ranging in age from 5 years to adulthood, though there will be special appearances by some of the music students as well.
“The idea behind the show is give the kids as much opportunity to be on stage as possible and for them all to have lines. I wouldn’t be a fan of giving the bulk of lines to a handful of children and then having the rest stand in the background and our drama instructor Pat Grant really tries to work to everyone’s strength so that everyone gets a turn to be out front. Pat’s so passionate about what he does, he’s a major asset to the school and the show he’s put together this year is one that both kids and adults will enjoy.”
Don’t miss The Storybook at Garter Lane, 8pm this Saturday and Sunday, with a matinee show on Sunday at 2.30pm. Tickets are available from the box office.