Ardnashee students hitting all the right notes ahead of Derry’s Jazz Festival

More than 2,500 school children across Derry and Strabane have been getting into the swing ahead of this year’s City of Derry Jazz Festival, as part of a special live music workshop series.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 15th April 2022, 9:17 am

Fifteen local schools will take part in the Live Music Now programme enjoying a series of jazz taster performances delivered by renowned local jazz musicians John Leighton and Meilana Gillard. 2022 sees the 21st anniversary of the internationally acclaimed music festival which is led by Derry City and Strabane District Council, returning in all its glory after the pandemic with an extravaganza of live music performances across a whole host of venues.

Ardnashee School have been hitting all the right notes as they prepare for their Jazz Festival debut, with over 100 pupils taking part in the workshop events this week.

Brid Cutliffe is a senior teacher at the school and she said it was fantastic to be able to take part in this year’s festival, after what has been a very challenging two years for local school children.

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John Leighton introduces Sophie, Kathleen and Aliya to some classic piano jazz in Ardnashee during a workshop ahead of this years City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival which begins on the 28th of April continuing over the bank holiday weekend before concluding on the 2nd of May. Picture Martin McKeown. 06.04.22

“The feedback from today’s event has just been brilliant. When we were offered the opportunity to engage with the programme this year we just jumped at the chance. Music is so important for our pupils, it really gives them the chance to express themselves and we missed this kind of performance so much throughout the pandemic. They’ve been in bubble for far too long and the Jazz Festival has given them something to really look forward to.

“It’s really important for the children to have goals and to set themselves challenges and they have been working so hard on their performances. The students had so much fun today with John and Meilana, and one of the classes where the children have complex needs in particular just loved the singing and dancing.”

The Ardnashee School choir is well used to public performance and they will be joined by some of the school musicians live on the Gay McIntyre stage in the Guildhall Square on Saturday April 30th at 12noon. It promises to be an energetic and eclectic medley of music classics, from Sheerin to Sinatra, and Brid said the children are just thrilled to be a part of one of the City’s most popular events.

“The musicians and singers have been putting in so much work, and I’ve seen some of them going straight down to practice for an hour a day after class. The music is so important to them. Some of the songs they’ve been practicing are Bad Habits by Ed Sheerin, Somebody I used to Know by Gotye and one of the pupils is even taking on Frank Sinatra with Fly Me to the Moon.

Shea, Tara and Aoibh from Ardnashee School pictured with jazz artist Meilana Gillard during an interactive workshop ahead of this years City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival which begins on the 28th of April continuing over the bank holiday weekend before concluding on the 2nd of May. Picture Martin McKeown. 06.04.22

“The choir will be performing some lovely upbeat numbers including Jailhouse Rock and This Little Light of Mine as well, which we hope will have everyone up and dancing. It’s so good to be able to perform again and I hope we get a great reception on the day.”

Over 7,000 children have engaged with Live Music Now since it first began working with the Festival in 2017, reaching out to the younger generation of musicians as part of the Jazz festival’s wider outreach programme.

Alice Lewis is Branch Director with Live Music Now in N. Ireland, working to bring free live music experiences to people in a wide range of settings including schools, hospitals, care homes and community centres. She explained the importance of giving young people the chance to see professional musicians perform.

“John and Meilana are familiar faces on the Northern Irish jazz scene, though Meilana hails from Ohio originally. Together they make a big sound, with Meilana’s gutsy, soulful vocals and John’s funky piano playing. Their short performances are interactive and fun, including familiar jazz standards, and are the perfect introduction to jazz for wee ones.

Tara enjoys the music during the Jazz workshop in Ardnashee

“This is the first year since the pandemic that schools will get to enjoy some live jazz and it’s just fantastic to be reconnecting once again through music. Pupils are familiar with genres such as pop, country, classical but jazz is something they have little experience of. So this is the perfect opportunity to give a platform to some of our fantastic local musicians to reach out to new audiences and let them have a taster of what the Festival is all about.”

Ardnashee School will be joined by a whole host of young talent on the Gay McIntyre stage entertaining the crowds from 12noon until 5.30pm on Saturday April 30. Find out more about the full programme for this year’s much anticipated Jazz Festival return at For more information on the work of Live Music Now go to

Harley has a funtime listening to the jazz performance by John Leighton and Meilana Gillard. Picture Martin McKeown. 06.04.22