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Caimin Gilmore found himself at a loose end when all of his gigs were cancelled.
A few weeks back, the freelance classical musician was sitting at home in Stoneybatter, bored by social distancing, looking for something worthwhile to do, he says. “I was looking at my mates working in ICU.”
Then he had an idea. “I realised that I could make good use of time too by going out and playing and giving something back to the community that way,” he says.
Gilmore, who plays the double bass, phoned his friend and neighbour, Liz McLaren, who is a violinist with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra.
“He just called me up and he said, ‘Do you want to do some duets in the park?’” says McLaren, who jumped at the chance of having something to do.
On Sunday 29 March, together – but at least three metres apart – the duo gave a classical concert in a little local park, Halliday Square, in Stoneybatter.
It was freezing, says McLaren. She had to peg down her music sheets because of the wind but she loved having an audience and playing with Gilmore.
“It was a nice atmosphere, a morale-boosting kind of thing,” she says.
“When you strip it back we need to help each other and music plays a big part in that,” says Gilmore.
McLaren says she is determined to keep the concerts going. She has now enlisted the help of another neighbour, and sought out new talent. As the performances started to gain more attention, supporters on Twitter dubbed the concerts the “Stoneybatter Proms”.
McLaren decided to call on her neighbour, Mary Barnecutt, she says. “She is a really good cellist and songwriter and she is a really good musician,” says McLaren, by phone on Sunday, speaking just after the latest concert.
“We just did it now and it was lovely, really sunny,” she says. The crowd was bigger than the previous week, due to a plug on social media by Stoneybatter Pride of Place, she says.
Everyone had plenty of space to stand around the park and still keep the appropriate distance from each other, she says. There were some people hanging out their windows too, she says.
Now McLaren is calling on all the musicians who live in Stoneybatter to join in. “Everyone seemed really happy and I just said it to Mary, there are so many musicians in Stoneybatter,” says McLaren.
As well as classical musicians there are traditional musicians including a harpist, she says.
She is aware that some people might say they should all just stay at home. But they are respecting social distancing so she thinks the concerts are a positive thing, she says. “Otherwise we are all going to go bonkers,” she says.
The only problem is that if too many audience members start to show up, that could ruin the social distancing. “We don’t want to get too popular,” says McLaren.
She hopes to run the concerts each Sunday, she says.
Give It a Bash
Halliday Square was the perfect environment for a socially distant concert, says Caimin Gilmore. It has a gate that closes, giving the musicians plenty of space.
Houses face onto the square, too, so neighbours can watch the performance from their own front doors, he says.
During that first concert, some people sipped on cups of tea while others cracked open the prosecco. “It was good craic,” he says. “I felt it really brightened up people’s day.”
Not everyone has a park on their street, but Gilmore says he would strongly encourage anyone who can play an instrument to consider performing a socially distant concert for their neighbours. “I’d encourage all musicians to give it a bash,” he says.
“It was by no means professional standard and it doesn’t have to be, it is just about building a bit of community spirit,” he says.
[CORRECTION: This article was updated at 9:00 on 8 April 2020 to reflect that it is McLaren who is determined to keep the concerts going. We apologise for the error.]