Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sing hallelujah!

Paid a little visit to the Dublin Gospel Choir in St Mary's on Church Street (after a little confusion caused by the man with the lived-in face who saw me looking for an open door in the church and asked: 'Ah, are you here for the AA meeting love?' Er, no.)

This was the result of my evening (with the choir; not at AA)...
WHOOPI Goldberg and inner city Dublin might seem an unlikely mix. But when Leaving Cert students in Stanhope Street School saw the movie Sister Act in 1996, they knew they wanted to do something very different for their graduation ceremony.
Out of these amateur beginnings grew Dublin’s first dedicated gospel choir. The Dublin Gospel Choir still raise the roof twice-monthly at Mass in St Mary of the Angels’ on Church Street where the Capuchin friars first gave them rehearsal and performance space. The choir itself has evolved into a musical behemoth that employs at least two people full-time and has just released a new album, Doing Their Thing.
It’s astonishing that a group of 30 or so volunteer singers have become a collective household name. “We’re so lucky with the people we have here,” says Orla Gargan, the choir’s full-time musical director. “When I think back to when we recorded our album… after months and months of hard work, we had two nights where everyone literally sang from 5pm until 11pm.
“It’s incredible what people are willing to give of themselves. Lots of things have come our way because everyone puts in such an effort.”
Some of those highlights have seen the choir rock the main stage at Electric Picnic, support Rod Stewart at the RDS, play to a sold-out Croke Park when they first switched on their new lights and provide backing vocals or artists like Paddy Casey, Glen Hansard and John Legend.
And they are still admirably in tune with their community roots. They support various charities – Barrettstown, Crumlin Children’s Hospital and Simon are favourites – and are entirely self-funded.
The singers are clearly in it for the love of the joyous, foot-stamping, hand-clapping music. At their rehearsals in St Mary’s they laugh and chatter and swap stories while the backing musicians tune up. One man gives a fellow chorister a shoulder rub, while another offers someone a lift home afterwards. The air rings with an energetic buzz – it’s like a outsized family coming together for an evening catch-up.
“I joined the choir with another girl who I used to sing with in a folk group in Rathfarnham – and she ended up marrying the keyboard player!” laughs Orla. The lead soloist on the choir’s new single, Liberty Belle, is Mary Cardiff from Inchicore. She also met her fiancé Eoin McNamara in the choir nine years ago.
“We had another engagement yesterday,” adds Orla, “Kerry-Ann and Sean, they both met through the choir. I guess this is our home a bit.”
** The Dublin Gospel Choir will showcase their new album, Doing Their Thing, at Tripod on Harcourt Street this evening (SUBS: Sat, Nov 7). Tickets available from Ticketmaster.

I MET MY FIANCE THROUGH THE CHOIR – Mary Cardiff, 31, from Inchicore, with the choir over 9 years
By day: Works for Edward Dillon wine sales.
By night: Alto.
“A friend of mine saw an ad in Queen Street near Bargaintown and said: You should go for that! I love music, I went along to the audition a week later and the rest was history.
I met my fiancé Eoin McNamara here. He’s on a break from it at the moment because he had a load of other bits and pieces. It’s very time consuming – we rehearse twice a week for two hours each evening. Depending on what’s on, you might have extra rehearsals and a couple of performances at the weekend. You have to love it to do it.
I had been in the choir for about a year and a half when Eoin asked me out on a date. We’re together eight years now and getting married next October. We sing duets at Christmas time and always get asked to sing together at parties. The choir will sing at the wedding – but I’ll get a break that day!
The choir is always there for me. My dad passed away in April. He had been unwell, he got pneumonia with complications and it was very hard when I sang at his funeral. I knew he would have wanted me to.
But the biggest help was when I came back in here after two weeks. It was the best thing I ever did. We were preparing for the new album and there was loads going on. It really helps in any situation to come in here and go out with a smile on your face.”

IT’S MY LIFELINE IN A NEW COUNTRY – Matt Burney, 39, originally from England, joined the choir a year ago.
By day: Director of the British Council in Ireland.
By night: Tenor.
“My job is quite interesting in that I’ve had lots of overseas postings. My last posting was in Prague before I came to Ireland in September 2008. The difficulty in that is that you make friends and then you are plucked out of that particular environment and sent to another place.
I come from a musical background originally - I’ve got a degree in Music – and it was basically a New Year’s resolution to find a community in Dublin to get involved with. I was amazed that there was a gospel choir here!
It’s been a lifeline to me: I’ve made some great friends out of it. I realised that one of the choir members lives on my road and we’ve become really good friends.
I’m a Protestant and I haven’t been into organised religion for a long time. I was wondering if it would be a bit odd when we did our twice-monthly gospel Masses because this is a Catholic church. But what I have discovered is that I really love coming to the Masses. There are candles lit everywhere, we get great congregations, it gives you a really nice spiritual feeling. It’s just a beautiful place to be.
I have a group of friends who are dispersed all over the world and we are meeting up in Dublin in December. I am getting tickets for them for one of our gigs in Tallaght so Dublin Gospel Choir is getting known across all sorts of far-flung places!
I’m only one year into my posting in Dublin but one of the things I’m thinking is, God, in two years’ time I’ll have to go through the same rigmarole or packing up my boxes. It’s going to be twice as hard next time because I’ll be leaving Dublin Gospel Choir. It will just be really sad.”

MY PROUD GRANNY THOUGHT I WAS A CELEBRITY – Joey McAleer, 22, from Tallaght, with the choir three years
By day: Masters student in Social Justice in UCD.
By night: Tenor.
“When I was in fifth or sixth class the Dublin Gospel Choir came to my parish with the Nights of Soul – it’s funny now but I still have Mary (Cardiff) and Kevin’s (Carthy) autographs from then! After the concerts, kids are completely starstruck by what they have seen and I was one of them.
Every Christmas my dad and I would go and see the gospel choir sing. I sang in boys’ choirs before but that was always felt very reserved for me, all that standing still. I just wanted to move! When I started the gospel choir, I was just in love with it. It’s definitely my life outside college now.
You might be having the worst day - like I was having a pretty bad day today - but the thought of coming into the choir, it really picks you up.
My granny passed away last September but just before that we had a radio slot on 98fm. She was in the hospital, she had had a stroke and she wasn’t very responsive. The family were at her bedside and they turned on the radio when they knew the choir was coming up. Her eyes just lit up.
She always encouraged me. She came and saw the choir perform in Ballinteer and bought a couple of the CDs and had me sign the back of them like I was some kind of celebrity. She had a picture of the choir with Rod Stewart on her mantelpiece. She was just really, really proud of everything.”

THIS IS MY SECOND FAMILY – Caitriona Walsh, 31, born in Dublin, raised in California and Galway, with the choir for 4 years
By day: Microbiologist.
By night: Soprano.
“I went to college in Galway and worked for a while elsewhere but moved to Dublin about four years ago when my boyfriend did. I didn’t know anyone here. When you go to college you have mates from class, it’s kind of built-in. But it’s not like that when you’re working.
When I went to audition all by myself, I was shaking I was so nervous! But Orla told me right then and there that I was in. I haven’t looked back. I just threw myself into it.
We do it because we love it. I think it’s why it goes down so well with the public. It’s like we’re having a party on stage and everyone’s invited.
If you ask any member of the choir they’ll probably tell you that the Nights of Soul are probably their favourite. It’s a full gig, it’s two hours, but we do them generally in community areas, in churches and the like. It’s really rewarding. You probably think we’re on drugs or something we’re so happy all the time, but music is very uplifting like that and we feel like it’s a joy to give it to people.
I find it very spiritual. People come and take away what they want from it. There’s never a message forced on people at all.
I couldn’t imagine my life without it now. It’s an addiction.”

I TURNED MY HOBBY INTO A FULL-TIME JOB – Kevin Carthy, 28, from Firhouse, with the choir for over 9 years
By day: Used to work in finance.
By night: Now a full-time employee of the choir, co-ordinating wedding bookings, corporate events etc.
“I was working in the financial industry for many a year but I always wanted to be in music. I had already started singing at weddings with a group from the choir and it just got busier and busier so they asked if I could look after the administration.
It was a bit of a risk – I had just gotten a mortgage but I thought if I don’t try I won’t ever know how it might have worked out for me.
I deal with the brides and grooms too. We’ve had some strange requests for songs – Sweet Like Chocolate Boy was one that was a bit random. We had to turn that down! The Prayer by Andrea Bocelli is very popular, or Celine Dion. O Happy Day is the most popular one for walking out after the wedding ceremony. It’s pretty joyous – it gets the in-laws and the parents giving it loads!
We do backing singing for other acts, corporate gigs, even funerals. I think I have got the best job in the world. If people are ringing up it’s because they are booking for the happiest day of their lives so it’s a great phone call to be at the other end of.
There is no comparison to the job I had before, it’s just amazing. You’re working with like-minded people, your best friends. Mary (Cardiff) and I joined the same day and Mary and her fiancé are my best friends. I’ll be singing at their wedding and co-ordinating their wedding. Everyone is so close, it’s like a second family.
If this ends, I will still stay with something in music. There’s no going back for me now.”

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