Karen is happy to share the power of love through music

September 9th, 2016 7:15 AM

By Aisling Meath

Karen going through the extensive music collection which she is giving to Lisheens House

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A Skibbereen artist has donated a very special collection of classical and modern jazz music CDs to Lisheens House. She shares its romantic past with Aisling Meath

‘If music be the food of love ...’

A COLLECTION of over 1,000 classical and modern jazz music CDs has been made available to Lisheens House for its education and training facilities. 

There will be a ‘listening space’ with headsets provided and the offer to drop in, make a cuppa, relax in a comfortable armchair and listen to beautiful music. The service will be free and open to all. 

Karen Billing, an artist based in Skibbereen, who runs The Boot Shed studio on North Street, has donated the entire collection for use to the centre, after an old friend, the late John Gibson, bequeathed it to her.  

As well as providing this great community resource, there are plans for further development of the lending and listening library.

‘It will be a resource for artists and workshop facilitators to the centre as well,’ said Karen. ‘During a workshop I use a variety of sensory props, for example – old photos, different textiles, colours and music.’

A trained nurse, Karen has worked for many years in facilitating art workshops for people with specific needs. She specialises in working with sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease, and those on the autistic spectrum. She has an artist’s studio and shop on North Street in Skibbereen.

‘It will also be a nice break for carers as well,’ she said. The client can do a workshop while the carer can go and chill out in the library and relax for an hour.’  

Karen will be facilitating an art workshop (11.45am-12.45pm, Tuesdays) at Lisheens House, and other courses are in development.

 ‘Curating the music collection is easy as John kept meticulous records and filing systems,’ she told The Southern Star.  ‘As well as the music collection, she is also going through boxes of the correspondence they had with each other for over thirty years. 

‘When I read my letters to him, they bring me back to a time and a place. He’s given me my past back,’ she said.

She met John Gibson in Hastings in 1969 when she was eighteen and training to be a nurse in East Sussex. He was a saxophonist in a jazz band. Despite the age difference of twenty years, the two became close friends.

John was a self-taught musician and collector who hailed from the east end of London. He encouraged Karen to listen to classical and jazz music, and she was hooked.

When Karen returned to London to resume her nursing training, John began to write to her. The letters continued to come until his death in February this year. 

‘It was always in capital letters, always with the same black felt tipped pen, cryptic at times, made-up words, but I understood it all,’ she explained.

‘He composed his own music after he started lamenting about how modern jazz was going to the dogs. He even wrote one piece about me. which he very cheekily named ‘Billing’s Gait’ which he described as a ‘jaunty little number’, referring to the way I walked after a few drinks,’ she laughed, recalling the
 happy memories.

‘I really miss his letters to me. Will I ever again get a letter in this digital age, I wonder?’ asked Karen.

But for now at least, she is enjoying the trip down memory lane and is delighted to share something so special with the wider community.

For more on Lisheens House training and education centre on Ilen Street in Skibbereen,  call 028-51950 or email [email protected]

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