Caoimhe Tiernan, Student in Computer Science on Orchestral Music

What I love the most about playing music with UCD Symphony Orchestra is that it is the most fun orchestra I have ever been in. Many people in the orchestra are not actually studying music, but are in it as a fun way to relax. However, we are skilled enough to play such diverse pieces. We’ve played everything from movie soundtracks, to ballet suites, to Beatles music, to symphonies.

My name is Caoimhe Tiernan. I am 21 years old, was born and raised in Dublin, and I am a final year student studying computer science at University College Dublin.

My journey towards computer science began when I was in primary school, and I stubbornly refused to memorise the times’ tables (I hate rote learning). So, my dad decided to make a quiz program that would hide one of the numbers, and I would have to fill it in. If I got all of the questions right, an animation would play. I was really curious as to how my dad made the program, so I asked him to teach me. Years later, when I was getting ready to apply to college, I knew I wanted to do something either in physics or maths. I went to a UCD open day for computer science. They really showed off how creative you can be with code, and I knew I enjoyed learning bits and pieces with my dad. That’s why I decided to choose computer science.

Outside of my college classes, I love orchestral music. I first became interested in music when I was signed up for recorder lessons in primary school – I guess my parents had no regard for their eardrums! There was a music teacher in the school named Marion Ryan, and she had a dream of setting up an orchestra for school children. She asked if I would be interested in taking part, and if so, what instrument would I like to pick. I liked wind instruments, so I chose the oboe. My mom really loved the piece Gabriel’s Oboe, and I liked its sound. That’s how I started at St Louis Wind and String ensemble. After I moved on to secondary school, I would come back and help tutor the younger wind players. Now, I mostly still play the oboe, but I also play the cor angle and the recorder.

The greatest influence in my life would have to be Matthew Manning. He is the 1st Oboe in the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, and also my teacher for 11 years. While music can be very competitive, he always insisted that you should always play for the love of playing and to enjoy it. My favourite composer has to be Tchaikovsky. I think he must have also loved the oboe, because the oboe and the cor angle get so many great solos. The 1812 Overture always picks my mood up, and I can always feel the tragedy in his Romeo and Juliet Overture.

When I got accepted into UCD, one of the first things I did was find out how to audition for the college orchestra. I had heard about it when chatting with other older musicians who were in college. I passed the audition and I joined the orchestra in my first year.

One of my favourite experiences of playing music in this orchestra would be our trip to Strasbourg in 2019. Strasbourg is a gorgeous city, and we got to play two concerts there with the University of Strasbourg orchestra. We performed “Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor” by Alexander Borodin. As the first oboe, I got to play the oboe solos in it. It was pretty exhilarating, but I was so happy because I adore that piece. I just had so much fun going out with the orchestra.

Living in Dublin has definitely supported my passion for Orchestral Music. In Dublin, there are several youth orchestras and music schools, which means there are lots of ways for young musicians to meet up and play together. UCD is very supportive of the orchestra. As a way to encourage students to take up something outside of their studies, you can receive credits for being a part of the orchestra. You have to go through an assessment of your playing skill, and your attendance is marked, but these are things I would be doing either way. It allowed me to be able to give time to music that I might not have otherwise.

My future goal with music is to keep enjoying it in my own time. After I graduate, I would like to be able to join the Hibernia Orchestra, a voluntary orchestra that rehearses in Dublin. However, with the Covid-19 situation, it has made it very tricky for orchestra rehearsals to take place – especially with wind and brass instruments, which are all about blowing air through long tubes pointed at the audience.

I think playing orchestral music will definitely be a benefit to my technological career. One aspect I have great experience in is teamwork. In an orchestra, you are a part of a large team that is broken into smaller groups (like woodwind, brass, strings) and then down into instrument groups (like violin, oboes, French horns). You work together to get the piece sounding right, and you try to help someone when they get lost. I have definitely seen how this helps when I am stuck on a piece of code and need help or I need to communicate something to another student. It’s easier to do it in words than it is in gestures and emphasising musical motifs.

My advice to anyone looking to play music in an orchestra is to just do it. It can be really intimidating, especially when you hear people starting music when they are young. But if you have enthusiasm and you practice, you will be flying along in no time. Listen to pieces that you enjoy or want to play. If you know how the piece is supposed to sound, then it makes it easier to play and practice.

There is always more than tech. While I really enjoy my course and am looking forward to becoming a software engineer, I also love music and doing something that isn’t work and research. It keeps a different mindset active, and it’s a way of meeting other people that I would not get to otherwise. It’s nice to be able to spend a few hours not staring at a screen too.

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