Thursday 15 November 2018

Sing, and raise yourself up - the benefits of finding your voice

Corus choir
Corus choir
Corus group. Sheila McGauran
Jenni Harrison

Gabrielle Monaghan

Ireland's largest choir, Córus, has done a fundraiser for Pieta House. Any one of us can join in and enjoy the very real benefits of finding your voice.

On a damp Monday night, more than 600 people in the vast main hall of the RDS in Dublin's Ballsbridge are raising their hands in the air and clapping as they belt out the chorus to the Queen anthem Radio Ga Ga.

This modern-day choir is rehearsing for a concert they will perform at the RDS tonight, with profits going to Pieta House. Yet few of these singers swaying can read music or had sung in public before joining Córus, Ireland's largest provider of choir classes.

Unlike many traditional choirs, would-be members of the choral company do not have to audition, an attraction for singers so shy they limit their warbling to the shower.

Instead, Córus, which runs classes in 18 different locations every week, is aimed at people who crave the social interaction and sheer pleasure that comes with singing their hearts out without the fear of an X-Factor style judgment.

Jenni Harrison (34) is one of the few members of Córus who is classically trained.

She sings in the choir at her local synagogue, but wanted another, less formal outlet from her busy life running her own business, Posh Fizz, which organises hen parties, and looking after two children under four.

"Tuesday nights are my oasis," the 34-year-old says.

"I needed something like this because of the pressures of running a business and looking after babies.

"For years, I wanted to join something fun, not a classical choir that requires an audition and a lot of work. With this, we get a CD and I can learn the songs by listening to them in the car while dropping the kids off at crèche.

"After spending the day with a colicky baby, within minutes of being at choir I'd be in stitches laughing at something with the girls.

"If you see the same people every week, you become friends.

"After this concert, the choir is done until September, but I'll still meet my friends from it every Tuesday night."

Group singing has been enjoying a resurgence since the depths of the recession, partly because of the community spirit it imbues and partly because of the popularity of TV shows such as Glee and BBC's The Choir featuring Gareth Malone.

In 2011, Malone recruited a selection of wives and girlfriends of British military personnel, betting he could whip them into such good shape they would top the charts that Christmas; the Military Wives Choir clinched the number one spot with their song Wherever You Are.

According to research espousing both the physical and psychological benefits of group singing, a good singsong is just what the doctor ordered. One study published by Oxford Brookes University in December found that people who sing with others are happier than both those who sing alone and those who belong to sports teams.

The authors suggested moving and breathing in synchrony may be responsible for this heightened sense of togetherness.

Other research has shown that belonging to a choir can ease respiratory problems, improve posture, and even curb depression.

Sheila McGauran, a psychiatrist who signed up to Córus four years ago after entering semi-retirement, takes a break from rehearsals and says "anything that relaxes you is good for you.

"If someone is quite isolated or doesn't have a partner, this benefits them because it's quite task-focused.

"At each class, there is a gentle introduction to the people around you.

"There have even been some romances," she adds.

"When the Córus bug bites, it's amazing how you will turn up on a dreary night, just because you know how well you will feel on the way home. It's a real high."

Córus was set up in 2010 by Yvonne McDonald, a media lecturer who has clocked up 30 years' experience making documentaries, and Mary Lowe, a former RTE continuity announcer who sang backing vocals for Linda Martin and Rebecca Storm.

The pair met as teenagers when staging shows for a musical company in Stillorgan and rekindled their friendship when on a preparation course for the children they were adopting in Russia.

"We were developing an idea about choirs for a TV series, as Gareth Malone was doing choir programmes in the UK," Yvonne says.

"But we saw a gap in the Irish market and decided to run classes ourselves for those of us who love to sing.

"We set out 15 chairs on our first night in Dundrum and over 40 people came.

"We now have 700 attending weekly classes and the demand for setting up classes is outstripping how fast we can train teachers.

"But there's no reason why we couldn't have classes in every city and town in Ireland."


Irish Independent

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