On meeting with Donna Harkin, you immediately feel welcomed by her warm smile, soft voice and easy manner, but behind this gentle exterior lies a woman of many talents.
Donna is the proud mother of two Leaving Cert students, a very accomplished musician, teacher, performer and recording artist, who also composes unique pieces of music, commissioned to celebrate special life events.
However, music is not just her job, it is also her passion and joy.
Donna recounted her own experience of music as a youngster, and expressed the deep joy and completeness she felt when playing. The sense of delight welling up inside, enclosing her in a separate even sacred space, where nothing but the music mattered. Mind you, she laughingly remembers that her family often sent her out to the shed to play!
She firmly believes anyone can experience this joy, whether young or old, regardless of their physical or mental well-being. Music is often regarded as a language we all share but Donna feels it transcends language and she has previously taught some with no English and others with limited verbal ability. Donna has witnessed students experience a sense of peace and fulfilment, as healing as deep meditation. She seems to possess a special gift of being able to connect with all kinds of people through her unique talent and has developed her own method of teaching, which she lightheartedly refers to as the 'Harkin Method'.
Donna revealed that “one of the true joys in my work as a teacher has been that I have enjoyed the luxury of being student-led: I am not confined by a curriculum or system to deliver music in a particular way, at a particular time, for a particular result or deadline. I can uniquely fit the learning around the student and their ability. My experience is that this keeps the space free from anxiety and open to delight, and the relationship with the music has room to grow beyond the boundaries of expectation”.
Earlier this year*, as part of the Donegal Schools Anthem project, Donna facilitated a group of students to compose and record an anthem they titled, “This Beautiful Place”. Their song celebrates Donegal through their eyes and is written in their words and with their music. The project is the first instalment of a 100-year legacy project, part of the 1916 commemorations. The Donegal Schools Anthem project was created by Donna in collaboration with Jacqui Dillon, director of Donegal Education Centre, Letterkenny.
Donna explained her vision for this venture: “As the mother of two teenage children moving out into the world, I feel impotent in preparing them to leave the nest. I know them as beautiful people, and desire to help them keep the faith of who they truly are as they voyage out into the demanding world. This feeling of impotence inspired me to reconnect with my own music, and reminded me that I found the best bits of who I am in that space, at that age.” Donna's desire is to celebrate diversity and encourage inclusion by facilitating young people to reconnect with their music and the beauty within.
“This Beautiful Place”, created by post-primary students, is dedicated as the “summer anthem” for the class of 2016. These young people are now in transition from school to a sometimes uncertain future in the wider world. We've all known young people who experience stress and disconnection at this point in their lives. Donna hopes this song will fill these young people with joy and delight, bringing a sense of lightness in what often feels like a heavy time, offering them a wonderful sense of belonging and inclusion.
Summer Anthem launches on July 17th.
Details are on donnaharkin.com.
* This column was originally published in the June 30th, 2016, edition of the Donegal Democrat.