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Davina Flaherty is a 15 year old singer-songwriter and musician from Galway. A member of CanTeen Ireland, the national young people’s cancer support group, Davina has been taking part in an online music project since summer 2020 led by musicians Seán Carpio and Ríona Sally Hartman. She discusses her passion for music, becoming a reluctant convert to virtual collaboration and the good chaos involved in the creative process.

Teen Spirit: Music adventures in the lockdown era

Being a person who doesn’t exactly fit the mould is a blessing and a curse. I’d like to think I have a creative mind and being part of the creative arts is very important to me. I am considered odd by everyone I come across because I am a pretty extra person. Some people like odd though, and the creative arts encourage the ‘odds’.

I remember being seven, having shaky hands, going to the GP. And the GP said it was probably anxiety. My parents were like, nope, that’s not it. They brought me to down to the hospital. I had a brain scan and I was diagnosed with a brain tumour. I feel a lot of people forget that when someone suffers with this sort of illness, there is still an aftermath. It’s not like in the TV shows where she had cancer and then she was cured. No, she had cancer and then afterwards she was given this lifetime of struggles. Because it was in my brain, I got a brain injury so I have problems with my eyesight, my energy levels. But I was seven when it happened so I’m kind of desensitised to it.

I started getting into music around the time I was turning into a teenager. I listened to this artist called Melanie Martinez. Usually the songs on the radio are all about disco and love and relationships. But her songs actually had a narrative behind them and that’s when I realised that songs could have a narrative. I was always into storytelling so I found that really cool. I began listening to other bands and watching music videos and I felt really invested in it. So I started taking guitar lessons. Then I moved onto stuff like ukulele, bass, electric guitar. I’m trying drums. I’ve squandered a lot of my college savings on instruments.

My town only really encourages sports and things along those lines, so extra-curricular activities I’d like to participate in are usually either too far or too expensive. I heard about a music workshop with Helium Arts (the national arts and health organisation for children and young people) and CanTeen and I didn’t even hesitate. It was right before lockdown and the experience was something I will never forget. We rehearsed songs in Temple Lane Studios and performed at The Sugar Club.

If you put creative minds together into a room or space you will find that chaos is a big part of the creative process. I have had so many laughs over these workshops and I really loved the people I was working with. I clicked with Seán Carpio by seeing his talent and his passion for music. He is an outstanding musician and was very tolerant of my refusal to get back to playing before I finished eating my wedges.

We performed one of my songs, I Rule Them All, at The Sugar Club. I wrote that in first year during music class when I was bored. I like to write about a lot of things, what I’m interested in or how I’m feeling. It could be a story in a soap opera, I could write a song about that. With I Rule Them All, I like villains, I like that kind of aesthetic of villains, ripping people’s throats out and setting poisonous spiders on people.

I will turn you inside out
I will rule this no name town
And I will
I’ll make sure of it
Burn it down
Put a bow on it
You will never stop me now
Fool me once, fool me twice
I will feed you poisonous spiders
Or will they feast on you?

– I Rule Them All, Verse One

Once lockdown started and CanTeen decided to switch to Zoom I was hesitant about how the music sessions would work. It was just the thought of going on the call, I felt it was more personal to be in person. But once I was on the call I realised this is exactly like it was before. We’re all crazy, it’s just there’s a delay now. We’re all talking over each other still, it doesn’t make a difference. The brilliant (don’t tell him I called him that) Seán Carpio and brilliant Ríona Hartman were able to take the amplified, almost unorganised chaos and shape it into something fantastic.

Ríona was new and was thrown into the bonfire of discord that is our group but she fit right in and showed great creativity. Her passion for music and her knowledge is always interesting to listen to. The online workshops aren’t formal at all, which I find is the best part of it. We’d be talking about dinner crisps and then that contributes to song ideas. Leaving the conversation open and welcoming it, I think it’s very beneficial to getting the brains going. It’s not like Dance Moms where they’re very competitive in preparing. It’s very laid back and that brings out more productivity in my opinion. Because when you’re not stressed to produce, you produce better stuff.

The themes are so vague. And I don’t mean that as an insult, I mean it in the most complimentary way possible. You can literally do anything with those themes and you can contribute your own interests so it never gets boring. It’s genuinely fun and the people there are so kind. We’ve just finished making an album. Some of the vocals were recorded during the online sessions and we also worked on our own songs in our own time, recording and sending them using WhatsApp. Sean and Ríona did their usual magic to transform what we gave them into finished tracks.

Taking into account that CanTeen itself is a group of people who break the mould, I think this collaboration was meant to be. Helium Arts and CanTeen have shown me and many others great opportunities. They have sparked a flame and set our minds ablaze and inspired us to get through these hard times.


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Image shown: Davina Flaherty, centre, with Ash Cahill and Mariosa Grace-Churchard at a CanTeen Ireland and Helium Arts music workshop, 2020.

It’s not like Dance Moms where they’re very competitive in preparing. The online workshops are very laid back and that brings out more productivity in my opinion. Because when you’re not stressed to produce, you produce better stuff.


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