String Play Musical Adventures for Young Audiences: Mary Barnecutt & Matthew Jacobson

Ahead of their upcoming performances of String Play at The Ark on February 8/9, we spoke to cellist Mary Barnecutt and percussionist Matthew Jacobson about how they developed this light-hearted and engaging show for ages 5+.

String Play is a musical journey through an ordinary day in which three friends converse, argue, travel, play and interact using only their instruments. It was devised as part of the 'Fun Size Jazz' series, an artist development collaboration between IMC and The Ark in 2018, which encouraged jazz and improvising musicians to create new work for young audiences. 


Q: Mary, how far do you think String Play as a show has come from its first ideas and experiments? 

It has turned from a series of sketches into a whole narrative ('A Day in the Life).  We have also created music and new sounds using our instruments and other objects such as a tea-set!    

Q: Did you find yourself thinking differently about creating this kind of music for a young audience? Is this show quite special in what it’s bringing to a young audience?

Mary: Yes, Kathrine and I both work extensively with primary school children and are keen to involve them in music of all kinds. We hope String Play makes music more accessible for younger audiences and to show through improvisations how musical forms occur.

Matthew: It has been a pleasure to be given the space and time to develop this show in the Ark. I believe there are great flaws in music education particularly at younger ages, so opportunities such as this – where we can show the children the fundamentally communicative and expressive nature of music – are vitally important. The range of musical contexts we are exploring is quite broad, intentionally giving the audience an inclusive view of instrumental music from children's songs to wilder free improv sections. I also think this is necessary in order for future generations of Irish musicians and audiences to have an open-minded approach to the art form.

Q: How did you find working with the theatrical side of developing String Play?

Mary: I loved it but found it very difficult to communicate directly, through eye contact and gesture with the audience at first.  We have to multi-task to act, dance, play and communicate all at the same time and the help we received from Sue was invaluable here.  We are used to mainly using music itself to communicate and this has challenged us into putting forward music, and the act of making sounds and music, in a theatrical way. 

Matthew: This has definitely taken me out of my comfort zone. But, while it can be difficult having to simultaneously think about movement; eye contact; positioning; body language and stage management as well as the music, I am learning a lot about how much all of this can help to bring the audience in to the show and to make them feel that they have really experienced it, as opposed to just observing it from the outside. This is particularly important with younger age groups where perhaps the attention spans are not so long (although we all know what technology and social media has done to adult attention spans too). 

Q: What do you think was the most rewarding aspect of this project for you?

Mary: Having the space and freedom to explore new ideas and be creative with sound.  Learning how to project how much fun we have been having into the audience.


Mary and Matthew along with violinist Kathrine Barnecutt will be performing String Play at The Ark on Friday 8th and Saturday 9th of February (book tickets), as part of the SPIKE Cello Festival.

More info HERE.

– posted