At just 16 years of age, Amy Gillen is already an extraordinarily accomplished musician. She achieved the remarkable feat of passing her Grade 8 Exams in flute at the tender age of 14. Her score? An astonishing 96 out of 100. Needless to say, the Gillen home in Bridgetown is bursting at the seams with medals and trophies. Now, she studies both flute (with William Dowdall) and piano (with John O’Conor) at the Royal Academy of Music. She also plays regularly with the Brass and Reed Band in Ballyshannon. All this, and she’s still only in Transition Year at Coláiste Cholmcille, Ballyshannon.
“From a very young age, I had a deep interest in music. I remember my mum would say to me that I used to ask my aunt to teach me some piano each time I went up to my gran’s house.
“My mum knew then that music was for me and decided to start me at the Donegal School of Music. This was a great starting point for me. I began recorder with Jim McDermott at the age of six. Sister Concepta told my mum to start me on flute when I was eight and I’ve continued on with it ever since. It has been a wonderful experience over the last eight years and I hope to keep it on for many more. I went to study with Sarah Murphy in Derry at the age of twelve.
“At the age of 14, I auditioned for the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland for flute. I got in on my first audition. There are 100 players involved in the orchestra and only four flutes are picked to play in the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland out of the high numbers which audition each year. “They hold two courses every year, a Christmas course and a summer course. In the Christmas course of 2009, we played The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas and Night on a Bald Mountain by Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky. It was a fantastic experience and every course that I have been at since with the NYOI has been a joy to take part in.
“In the Summer Course of 2010, we played the Granuaile Suite and the Brendan’s Voyage, both by Shaun Davey, for the 40th Anniversary of the NYOI, In the second movement of the Granuaile Suite, there is a beautiful flute solo, which I played then. The beautiful flute solo plays a very melodic passage singing over the subtle, moving accompaniment by the strings. This passage reminds me of the birds soaring through the breeze.
In March of 2011, we travelled to the United Arab Emirates. We did a tour there of three different places, the Madinat Theatre, Souk Madinat Theatre, Dubai, Municipality Theatre, Al Ain, and the Auditorium at the Paris-Sorbonne University, Abu Dhabi. It was an experience of a lifetime. We played the Brendan Voyage by Shaun Davey and also Irish Destiny by Míchéal Ó’Súilleabháin.
“This is my third year now in the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland and I just love it. We are going to be playing Shostakovich Symphony No.10 in the summer. It will be a challenge but I’m confident it will be a great success in the end after our intensive eight hour a day rehearsals. I now study with Professor William Dowdall in the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin.
“At the age of nine, I started piano. I began formal lessons with Noreen Thomas in Donegal Town after having been taught a bit of piano by my aunt. “Then at the age of 12, I went to Ruth McGinley in Derry. I won all of my competitions in the Feis Doire and also won the award for the most promising Instrumentalist of the year. In 2010, I auditioned to get into the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin for piano and successfully got in on a full scholarship to study with Doctor John O’Conor and Professor Ray Keary. This was a great achievement for me as John O’Conor and Ray Keary are both top teachers in the country and John O’Conor is regarded as one of the world’s top pianists.
“At Feis Ceoil Ireland in Dublin last spring, I won my competition the ‘Isabel Bryan Spratt Cup’ for piano and the Feis Rosebowl for the highest mark out of two competitions in the Feis. This was presented to me at a special award ceremony in the John Field Room in the National Concert Hall, Dublin in September. I was delighted at the fact that I had won such a pretigious competition. A bursary also came with the Rosebowl. I won two cups at the Feis Ceoil Sligo as well for piano and also received a €300 bursary for the highest mark out of five competitions. This really excited me and encouraged me to continue working hard in relation to my music.
“I hope to continue with music for a very long time. I think music is a a wonderful way to express one’s feelings. It is a great way to get a relief from everyday life and tell the story of the music in a magical way. The main aim of a musician is to portray the story of the music to the listener because each piece of music was written for a reason.”