I was very happily teaching piano in Bennekerry primary school in Carlow, when Trudi Shannon the principal approached me about forming a school choir. I had some experience of singing in choirs and could sing well, but I had never thought about leading one.
My love for music began mostly under the direction of Sr. Anna Hyland, who taught us our band tunes by solfa – do, re, mi etc – her teaching of solfa has had a huge impact on my work with my choirs, as did Ollie Hennessy – musician, teacher, composer, mentor – and Liam Lawton singer and composer, whose support in the early years of my choir, encouraged me to begin composing. Their encouragement over the years has been invaluable.
In 1997, a year after attending an in-service course facilitated by Rosaleen Molloy, I travelled to Chicago, to attend an intense professional development week in Choral Music Education. This was to be the start of something new that greatly enhanced my life in so many ways – for the first time ever, I felt I was in my element.
A month later, full of excitement at the idea of starting a choir; I hopped up on my bicycle and hand delivered 2000 notices to local primary schools. This was the beginning of the Carlow Young Artists Choir – now known as Aspiro. Why the name? While in Chicago the young singers were always referred to as ‘Young Artists’ and I loved the sense of respect that this gave to them.
We started our choir off with 45 members, which we divided into two groups; junior and senior. I was quite nervous that first week asking myself questions like; Would they enjoy what I did with them? Would they come back the following week? But return they did!
During those first few years things moved very fast and the choir had many opportunities to travel as ambassadors for both Carlow and Ireland. In September 2004 I became a full-time artistic director, which enabled me to invest more time in helping both the choir and to reach our potential. As membership grew, so did the administration -we now have a part-time administrator.
We rebranded in 2009 and are now called Aspiro, with a tag line of ‘breathing life into music’. I have great belief in the innate musicality of all children and young people hence our open door policy – we do not audition our members. Membership fees are also kept at a minimum, to allow for greater accessibility.
Currently we have five ensembles; Junior, Aspiro Girls, Aspiro Male Voice Squad, Aspiro Youth and our newly formed Aspiro Inspired, for older adults up to 80+! Each group meets once a week with the Youth meeting twice weekly. Between all groups we have approximately 150 members.
In September 2010 as part of our strategic plan, we engaged a choral director for our youngest Aspiro group and in September 2012 one of Aspiro’s long term members, Karen Kelly joined the artistic team, as a music assistant and conductor / facilitator in training. It has been a pleasure to witness Karen’s transition from choir member to choir leader. What better person to have on our team – Karen knows the ethos and values of Aspiro and this shines through in both her teaching and conducting.
Mary Amond O'Brien
MARY AMOND O’BRIEN
Mary Amond O’Brien began her career in choral music education in 1997, with the formation of Aspiro who have an outstanding track record, both nationally and internationally. Aspiro offers a musical education of the highest artistic standards through the medium of choral music for interested young people in Carlow and surrounding counties.
Believing in the innate musical potential of all young people and within a policy of equity and inclusiveness, no auditions are held for membership which makes this successful young choir unique. Focusing mainly on performance Aspiro has also won many awards at Ireland’s major Choral Festivals. Aspiro’s performances have been acclaimed by the Irish Times and Irish Examiner as ‘remarkable’ and Mary’s conducting as ‘vigorous and dynamic’.
Mary was appointed choral director of RTÉ Cór na nÓg in 2011. Mary has studied with world renowned choral specialists Dr. Doreen Rao and James Jordan [US] and has received many Arts Council Awards in support of her continuing professional development and is in much demand as a guest director and workshop facilitator.