Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Rising Star Joe Makes Waves with Mastery of Melodeon

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Rising Star Joe Makes Waves with Mastery of Melodeon

Article excerpt

Byline: By David Whetstone

In its short existence The Sage Gateshead has played host to many stars of the music world. But that has never been its sole or even its primary role.

More representative of that is a young man with a melodeon who will perform there tonight.

Joe O'Connor, a rising star in his own right, is a product of The Sage's extensive education and outreach programme which has been in operation since long before the Gateshead building opened in December 2004.

David Oliver, Folkworks learning programme leader at The Sage, relates the extraordinary success story of this young man from Barrow-in-Furness.

He begins by recalling a performance Joe gave recently which was also attended by Alistair Anderson, the renowned North-East concertina player and a founder member of Folkworks, one of the partners in setting up and running The Sage Gateshead.

"Alistair leaned across to me at a concert six months ago, when Joe was playing, and said, 'If Folkworks had done nothing else, it would have been worth it for that five minutes of his playing'. Alistair doesn't say those things lightly."

David, head of Whitley Bay High School before he joined Folkworks, explains that Joe is one of the beneficiaries of an instrument bank the organisation set up with a lottery grant a few years ago.

It was aimed at youngsters who maybe wanted to try a folk instrument without committing themselves to it at the outset, but also at those whose parents couldn't afford to buy what can be a pricey object.

"When I was a headmaster I used to be a great believer in what I called the casual curriculum based on the idea that there are some things you can't plan," says David. "This was one of those historical accidents."

Because Folkworks knew of a good melodeon teacher in the Barrow area, they arranged workshops in a school there using instruments from the instrument bank. Children were invited to attend and have a go. One of them was Joe, then aged 13 and sporting the hearing aid which he has always had to wear in his left ear. …

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