Mary Amond O’Brien is a busy woman. In addition to her choir work as Artistic Director with Aspiro and Music Director with Cór na n’Óg, she is currently running the ‘Sing and Shine’ outreach project in Carlow. Over the next four weeks, Mary will blog about this experience for the National Youth Arts Programme, giving us a first-hand account of the developments and the supports required when embarking on an ambitious new piece of work with young people.
In 1997, I established Aspiro, an after-school community choir which caters for boys and girls aged 4-19 and in recent years for older adults up to 80+. Aspiro is a choir that believes in the innate musical potential of all its members young and old. We don’t hold any auditions for membership and we’re guided and influenced by five core values; The Young Artist, Aspiring to Be The Best You Can Be, Inclusion, Value to the Community and Long-Term Development.
Having conducted and taught the various ensembles of Aspiro since 1997, I have been used to experiencing the ‘feel good’ and ‘re-energised’ feeling immediately after rehearsals, in particular the rehearsals that go well! I return home in the evenings feeling uplifted and full of energy after a busy day’s work. I never really thought about the experience for the singers, until I presented the active retired groups that I was working with in 2012 (about 250 people in total) with an evaluation after our ‘Sing, Sing A Song’ project. As part of the project I introduced breathing exercises into the weekly rehearsals, after I realised that many did not know how to engage in deep breathing.
When I received the evaluation forms from the singers at the end of the project, I was amazed to see that so many people had written down the range of benefits that they got from the group singing; in particular the breathing exercises that they had been doing. Many mentioned how each week they looked forward to coming in to sing, with some going as far as saying that they lived for these two hours every week. Looking back now this is probably when the seeds of our current ‘Sing and Shine’ project were sown!
We developed an idea for a project that aimed to enhance the health and well-being and enable the personal transformation of young people in our community through singing. In June 2014 Aspiro submitted a proposal for the ‘Sing and Shine’ project under the Merck Sharpe & Dohme, Neighbour In The Community Scheme and we were thrilled, when we were told that our application had been successful.
‘Sing And Shine’ is an outreach programme from Aspiro with weekly visits in four local secondary schools. Groups are varied – three of the schools being mixed – so it is wonderful to have so many male singers involved. I meet each school group once a week for approximately 60 – 90 minutes and we work on the ‘massed choir’ repertoire as well as their chosen solo song.
The project will culminate on Sunday 10th May 2015 in the GB Shaw Theatre in Carlow with performances by the individual groups and combined groups en masse. A unique part of the project will be the launch of visual interpretations of each school’s chosen song by local artist and illustrator Derry Dillon, which will be presented to each school as a visual reminder of the project.
I have received great support from all the schools for ‘Sing And Shine’. Before schools broke for the Easter holidays we brought the singers from the four schools and their teachers together for the first time to rehearse the ‘massed choir’ pieces of ‘Sing And Shine’. The feeling in the room was amazing, we had close to 150 young people aged 12 – 18 singing together for the first time with everyone learning from and leading each other; there was a great sense of individual and group pride with singers wanting to ‘Sing And Shine’ for themselves and for their school. It was a great example of ‘Better Together’; achieving together what might not be possible individually, which is what this project is all about and indeed what life is about too – supporting each other is whatever way we can to be the best we can be in everything we do. Now that the Easter break has come to an end I look forward to returning to the schools in the coming week.