Singing through the uncertainty for children and families
REPORT: Adrian Cusack
Among the positive local initiatives to emerge from the recent lockdown is a series of regular live-streamed shows for toddlers and families which singer Anne Marie Hynes has been delivering from her home in Monksland.
Anne Marie, a gifted vocalist and mother of two girls, started to offer her 'Hummingbirds - Let's Make Music' classes for toddlers and parents last September.
When Covid-19 brought those classes to an end, she turned to the web and started to provide regular live streaming singalong shows for young children, which are being broadcast on the Hummingbirds Facebook page.
"Like so many others, I am getting the Covid-19 payment. The country has given to me, so I wanted to do something to give back," she explained.
Every Tuesday and Thursday morning Anne Marie, known to the children as 'Miss Annie', performs upbeat songs and well-known nursery rhymes designed to engage young children.
She often records the streams in an area of woodland near her home, and her repertoire can include "some songs in Irish, some for positive mental health, and some just for jumping about and having fun!"
The Tuesday and Thursday the web streams, which are free and available to all, have been attracting hundreds of views. On Saturdays she also offers a 40-minute online class for anyone who attended one of her classes previously.
Speaking to the Westmeath Independent this week, Anne Marie said she's been delighted by the positive reaction to the live streams, with people tuning in throughout Ireland and elsewhere in the world.
"The feedback has been really lovely," she said. "I have had people watching in Australia, New Zealand, America, the UK and even in Bosnia! I was kind of taken aback when it first popped up that I was singing to a little child in Bosnia.
"Like everybody, I have cousins in America, Australia, and New Zealand and my cousins have been sending me pictures of their kids watching me on telly. The messages have been fabulous."
Anne Marie's daughters, Maisie and Síomha, are aged seven and two respectively, and she spoke about the way in which singing and nursery rhymes can help young children's brain development and their literacy and numeracy skills.
"I'm a parent, and it's hard, so I am always looking for any kinds of tools I can use to help me with my parenting," she said.
"I've found that since my first was born, we used singing so much with her. If I was trying to coerce her into something she didn't want to do I found that if I turned it into a song, or a game, it would work.
"I say that my classes are for 'children and their grown-ups' because I really want the adults to feel confident in using music with their family as well. I have been doing family music classes with the ukulele for, say, two siblings and a parent, or two parents and a child, learning ukulele as a family, which is so lovely.
"I like to make things as family-friendly as possible, and I want to make music accessible for families."
Anne Marie, a native of Bogginfin, has an MA in Community Music and has been active over the years as a performer of folk music and as a wedding singer. She moved back to Athlone in recent years after previously living in Galway.
"Another reason I set up Hummingbirds is because I had been very busy gigging in Galway and teaching choir in the evening. I knew, moving back to Athlone, that I wanted music to be in my days instead of my nights.
"I'm blessed to still be in the wedding business, singing at ceremonies since 2006, and while I still love heading off for the day to sing at a wedding I want to localise my work as much as possible now that I have two children."
Prior to the lockdown, she was about to start teaching ukulele in a school in Brideswell and had also been taking part in some musical visits to preschools.
"I'm hoping that in September that I can branch out into visiting more preschools and doing little concerts where children can come together," she said, adding that she is also planning ukulele classes for adults later in the year.
* For more information, or to watch Anne Marie's streamed shows, visit the 'Hummingbirds - Let's Make Music' Facebook page or see www.hummingbirds.ie