The Irish Chamber Orchestra is determined to play a key role in the regeneration of Limerick. At the heart of this plan is Sing Out with Strings (SOWS), a groundbreaking initiative that offers 300 schoolchildren the chance to learn music for free.

Inspired by El Sistema, the Venezuelan model of music education, Sing Out with Strings provides pupils from Le Chéile National School, St Mary’s National School and Coláiste Nano Nagle Secondary School with free singing, song-writing, violin, viola, cello and double bass tuition, harnessing the power of music to develop pupils’ key skills, including concentration, co-ordination, listening and teamwork.

Launched with seed funding from the University of Limerick in 2008, SOWS has been hailed as a model of social inclusion, giving thousands of children access to music education, and providing tangible, long-term benefits for participants, their families and the wider community. Students are regularly given the chance to perform and to take part in national and international events. In 2018, nine students from SOWS took part in the Sistema European Youth Orchestra summer camp, performing at London’s Royal Festival Hall and Bournmouth Symphony Hall with violinist Nicola Benedetti. Many former pupils have gone on to join orchestral groups, win medals in competitions, achieve high marks in RIAM exams, or study music at Junior Cert.

Now in its thirteenth year, the scheme is a cornerstone of the ICO’s Community Outreach programme, attracting local and national recognition. With the support of our many generous patrons including the JP McManus Benevolent fund, the scheme has expanded to include holiday sessions, summer camps, choirs and trips. In 2016, thanks to the Musical Capital Scheme, SOWS was able to offer entrance to the Royal Irish Academy of Music Cara Award exams for all 5th class children. In 2017, SOWS expanded to support children playing string instruments at secondary level.

The success of the project has inspired us to set up the Irish Chamber Orchestra Youth Orchestra (ICOYO) which provides aspiring musicians aged 12 to 18 with the support they need to grow. The newly established ICOYO has emerged from direct funding from the Creative Ireland Programme, part of a new National Creativity Fund. It is a source of particular satisfaction and pride that so many of the orchestra’s members began their musical journey through Sing Out with Strings.

For the future, Sing Out with Strings aims to continue to expand, strengthening communities within Limerick and inspiring a new generation of children to discover the transformative power of music.

In September 2022 the ICO launched Sing Out With Strings Online, our ground-breaking and freely available online teaching resource. The site is filled with a series of inspirational, flexible, engaging, and accessible resources including multi-angled performance demonstrations by ICO musicians. It also offers downloadable sheet music, enabling participants to engage fully with content, while A Meet the Musician section offers users a chance to engage with specific musicians and their instruments.

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