Archive for the ‘Conducting’ Category

Joining a choir

Posted: August 31, 2017 in choral, Conducting

Are you one of those people who sings when you’re pottering around the house? I am. Always was, probably because I come from a family of musicians. It never occurred to me that singing was something associated with being happy, until a relative told me off for singing to myself in the house in the aftermath of a family bereavement when I was in my early teens. I must have been a rather odd child, because til then it had never even crossed my mind that this might be considered inappropriate; singing was just something I did, without associating it with particular emotions.

There’s been such an explosion in the popularity of choirs here in Ireland over the past 5-10 years, and so many column inches devoted to the phenomenon, that it almost seems superfluous to mention the documented benefits of choir membership to our mental and physical health, with study after study showing that it reduces stress and anxiety, and actually increases life expectancy a little.  Choral singing also provides a strengthened sense of both individual and community identity, bringing together people who may differ with regard to age, ethnicity, education or cultural background. As a singer, it is your space, somewhere you go to be with others and forget about your worries for a couple of hours. As I heard Bazil Meade of London Community Gospel Choir  note at a workshop: ‘When you come to choir practise, you check your baggage at the door’. To me this suggests not that singing reflects happiness, but rather that it contributes to it; I’ve known many people join choirs precisely because they’re not happy, for reasons as simple or as complicated as bereavement, addiction, pressured home lives. Wherever you place yourself on this spectrum, there’s a choir out there for you. Even if you ‘can’t’ sing – and many people who believe this about themselves haven’t really tried, but that’s another day’s blog – you can always join an ensemble such as the Sing Along Social, or set up something like the Can’t Sing Choirs that are popular in the UK.

If you can sing, live in the Dublin area and think you might like to join a choir under my direction,  here are some options:

Sandymount Gospel Choir are having an open night for prospective new members on Tuesday September 12th, so if you’re interested in joining a fun but committed group of gospel singers, why not pop along that night and see if it’s for you?

Alternatively, if you live on what Dubliners darkly refer to as ‘the other side of the city’, you might be interested in Portmarnock Singers Open Night on Monday 11th.  The choir performs a mixed repertoire classical, sacred and popular music. Same idea, just pop along on the night and try it out, then if you think you might like to join come and chat to one of us afterwards!

If you’d rather be in the heart of the city centre, Waltons New School of Music Choir, Sing Your Heart Out, will be back from the end of September, with try-outs for new members on Sept. 28th.


In a final aside, there is a good reason to do it now. Most choirs – or at least those I’m involved with – take in new members in both September and January, both being times of the year when people are interested in exploring new challenges and interests. I don’t know exactly why this would be true, but for whatever reason, people who join in September are far more likely to stay on than those who join in January. Perhaps it’s easier to make a commitment to an evening rehearsal before the nights get too cold and dark, perhaps it’s simply that September doesn’t carry the ‘new year’s resolutions pressure’ of January. I honestly don’t know, but it’s consistently the case in my own experience. So if you’re interested in joining a choir, do it now. The research suggests you’ll live longer.




Reward time

Posted: December 11, 2014 in choral, Conducting
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I’ve had a pretty good week on the choir front. Sandymount Gospel Choir were shortlisted for Lyric FM‘s Choirs for Christmas competition, with our version of Light of the Stable by Emmylou Harris airing on Niall Carroll’s show on Wednesday 10th December.

We had a cracking concert with Portmarnock Singers on Sunday 10th in St. Anne’s Church in Portmarnock, the culmination of a tough season’s rehearsing. And the Waltons Sing Your Heart Out Choir gave their end  of term concert last Thursday 4th, also a great success (that’s them in the rather dark photograph below…….luckily I’m much better at conducting choirs than at taking photos of them!)  Meanwhile in The Gospel Project we had the somewhat unusual experience last  Friday 5th December of performing in a warehouse in West Dublin…..have we had a career change, I hear you ask? Well, no, but it was certainly a little different to our usual weddings & functions; a retirement send-off for two obviously very popular figures in Kefron, both stepping down after having established the company and given it lifelong service. We sang a (somewhat altered!) version of Aloe Blac’s The Man  in honour of Tom & Mick.

The period from September-Christmas can be a bit frantic for choir directors, and I’ll admit that this year in particular it was taking its toll on my energies during the rehearsal period, but as  a choir member said to me this week, ‘it’s reward time now’. It’s all paid off. A good term’s work.




I’ve been re-evaluating some of my rehearsal strategies this week. Four and sometimes five nights each week I run rehearsals with different choirs and vocal harmony groups, but it’s quite important for me to remember that it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ type thing. Far from it. Every ensemble has its own culture and work ethic, and of course some of the groups I work with are professional and some non-professional.  The Gospel Project is a group comprised of professional singers, and I’m accustomed to being able to walk in to rehearsal, throw some complex harmonies at them and have the singers reproduce them pretty quickly. Another group I work with are highly committed amateurs and again are able to learn parts relatively quickly, or at least put in a lot of private practise time outside of weekly rehearsals. I have to be careful that this doesn’t lead to unrealistic expectations on my part when it comes to some of the other groups I work with; one is a group of complete beginners for whom the world of singing harmony is quite new and naturally they learn more slowly. Another group again is happy to show up and sing whatever can be managed in rehearsals but there is no culture there of individual practise outside that time. This is further complicated by the fact that many people regard singing as something you can either do or you can’t, and consequently don’t respect the idea of practising it.

It leads to some interesting questions regarding the role of the musical director; should you always attempt to push an ensemble to newer and more ambitious goals? In a recreational – as opposed to professional – singing environment is the optimal goal always a great performance, or is the process of learning and rehearsing just as important? If the choir are quite happy with things the way they are, do I have the right to insist that they should be doing better? Reaching for  higher standards enhances the experience for some singers and has the very opposite effect as far as some others are concerned, so this is not an easy thing to get right. There’s also the matter of how I fit into it as a professional musician with high standards  – the choir’s standard is a reflection on me, but they are my employers, so shouldn’t I serve their needs rather than my ambition? Who am I really doing it for when I demand more of the choir?

What a week. I’m used to running around a lot but these past few days were extreme even for me. Teaching, gigging, rehearsing Portmarnock Singers, The Gospel Project, Sandymount Gospel Choir, squeezing in a few committee meetings in between and, sadly, singing at a funeral on Thursday morning. And travelling from one of those things to the other. (The thing nobody warns you about when it comes to being self-employed is how much time you will spend just getting from one professional appointment to another – in Dublin traffic this is no joke! I sometimes envy people who go to work in the same place every day. Especially when I’m on the way to weddings in hard-to-find country churches……)

Highlights of the week for me:

1). Being introduced to a cracking Karl Jenkins piece, Adiemus,  which I’m going to be doing with Portmarnock Singers:


Can’t wait to get stuck in to this in rehearsal on Monday.


2). A very positive rehearsal on Tuesday with Sandymount Gospel Choir. As with many other areas of life, September is the time when choirs kick off again after the summer and new people often come on board – happily we’ve got a good few new choir members and, more importantly, they’re fitting in well and bringing new energy to the ensemble.

3). I discovered the existence of this organisation – the Wedding Band Association.  This is a long overdue initiative proposing a kind of Code of Practice for the wedding band industry in Ireland. I take my hat off to these guys; musicians tend not to be too wonderful about organising ourselves but this is a positive exception. Self-regulation. A great opportunity for honest, hard-working wedding bands.

New conducting job

Posted: July 29, 2014 in choral, Conducting

I’ve just learned this week that I’ve been appointed to the post of Musical Director with the Portmarnock Singers, a well-known choir in North Dublin. Looking forward to starting with them in September. Always good to have a new project to work on!

Portmarnock Singers

Portmarnock Singers