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Jessie Grimes: 'Why I want to teach children that classical music is fun'

Clarinet player Jessie Grimes, one of the stars of Clandeboye Festival, on why she backs same sex marriage

By Una Brankin

Musician Jessie Grimes shares a surname with a famous duo from her home county of Dublin. Fortunately for her, the similarities end there. John and Edward Grimes - aka Jedward - couldn't hold a candle to Jessie's skills on the clarinet, which have placed her in wide demand in the classical musical world.

A teacher at the Royal School of Music in London, she will be presenting this year's family concert at the Clandeboye Festival tomorrow at noon, as well as performing in two of the lunchtime events and with Camerata Ireland tomorrow night. As an artist in residence at the 2015 event, it's a homecoming of sorts for the attractive redhead, a former Clandeboye student and winner of the Ireland Fund of France award at the Festival.

The award enabled Jessie (29) to go to Paris to buy a new clarinet, but indirectly prevented her from celebrating the result of the Republic of Ireland's recent same-sex marriage referendum with girlfriend Emma Murphy, a media adviser and fellow redhead, also based in London.

"There's a photo of me standing at the Gare du Lyon on May 18 in tears," she says. "My whole family, including an uncle who's gay, turned out on the day and had a wonderful time. I was there to use the money Clandeboye had given me though, so I missed it for the right reasons.

"America's leading the way with equality of marriage and I'll be supporting the campaign here in Northern Ireland."

Jessie, from Skerries, has Grimes cousins in Belfast and first came to Northern Ireland as a Trinity College student.

"I grew up hearing about the Troubles on the radio, so I didn't know quite what to expect but I was very impressed with Belfast. I love the city; St George's Market is brilliant. The arts sector is so well supported and the food is great, too.

"The only thing was when we went to play in Londonderry with an educational project - there was a trad section in it, which went down well in a Catholic girls' school, but when we played it in a Protestant boys' school, the whole room dissolved and the atmosphere changed completely. Yet, these boys were born in 2000. I was amazed. That's hard to understand, although the north has moved on a lot."

Jessie is also member of the acclaimed all-female Jacquin Trio playing clarinet alongside a pianist and viola player. On top of that, she also works with children with special needs through the Live Music Now (LMN) scheme in London and runs toddler workshops.

"As adults, most of us have pre-formed ideas about classical music - we either love it or hate it," she says. "But kids are so open to it. I'll be playing some John Adams and Benjamin Britten and you'll get concert-goers saying, 'oh I don't like John Adams', but kids are far more receptive. The trick is presenting it in an accessible way, like we do with classes and dance at LMN."

Through LMN and workshops, Jessie has brought music to the lives of children in disadvantaged areas, as well as in special needs centres and care homes.

"There was one kid in a special needs school who was immobile and had made no gestures or movement for a long time," she says. "When we began to play, he started to move and laugh a little, and move his eyes. The principal had tears in her eyes; she had never seen him respond to anything. I've also had surprising reactions in disadvantaged areas. Kids describing classical music as 'wicked', for example."

Jessie also took part in the BBC series Ten Pieces, which encourages children to enjoy classical music. Tomorrow's family concert at Clandeboye includes a Ten Pieces Live! segment.

"I'll be showing kids how classical music is all around them in film, TV and big sporting events and that it is fun. I want to blow their minds. And the younger they're exposed to music, the better."

  • Clandeboye Festival - Ten Pieces Live! is free for children and £10 for adults (children to be accompanied by an adult). Tickets are on sale from the Grand Opera House box office and or at the door on the night. Ten Piece Secondary begins in October 2015 with free screenings of a new film. See, email or tel: 0800 015 9021

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