Choir is the second art form that we have chosen to profile in this blog series, examining how young people in arts groups have made the transition from being a member to becoming a leader. In the following two blogs, Artistic Director Mary Amond O’Brien and ex-member and leader Karen Kelly of Aspiro in Carlow, discuss work, the ongoing development of their group and of course the role that they now play within it.
That Little Extra
In September 1999, I, a nine year old, walked into a crowded room of strangers, nervous but excited, to begin my first practice with the Carlow Young Artists Choir (now named Aspiro). Little did I know that this room, even 15 years on, would be a second home and these strangers would become my fellow choir members, mentors and friends.
I joined Aspiro choir as I had been involved in music from an early age, with a particular love of singing, to the point of annoyance to my family. My Mam decided to direct my passion for singing and signed me up to Aspiro. It took three bars of singing “Danny Boy” during my first practice to get me hooked, that and the choir’s leader, Mary Amond O’Brien. She spoke to us, a crowd of 9-18 year olds, as adults, equals. When she spoke about the music it was not just the notes but the words and emotion that brings the music to life from the page. She would focus on small details and remind us, “The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra”.
Aspiro played a huge role in my life through primary and secondary school. I made an amazing group of friends, travelled, sang in places I never dreamed of singing, achieved things I never thought I could and developed a love of choral music. When I moved away for college I found that my ties with Aspiro began to fray as other commitments came first. During my time in college I continued to sing in choirs but they always lacked in comparison to Aspiro. Each conductor taught me something new but I never left practices as energised or fulfilled as I did with Aspiro.
Once I finished my music degree and moved home to take on the challenge of a Higher Diploma in Primary Education, Mary asked me would I be interested in becoming a member of the Aspiro team, as an assistant conductor. I had taken on leadership roles within the choir but I never thought of actually leading someone. Needless to say I took Mary up on her offer.
I have been working on the Aspiro team for almost two years and I am still very much in the process of transitioning from member to leader. I often find myself questioning my ability, knowledge and confidence to lead a room full of musicians. However, with Mary giving me opportunities to lead the group in practice and performance helps me to gain the confidence and skills that I need. Observing Mary is the most valuable asset to my development, her use of movement, story and imagery when teaching the music is simplistic and engaging for the members but produces far from simple results.
Looking out at my group, Aspiro Girls, (girls aged 7-12), I can see my nine year old self, loving the sense of teamwork and friendship and the atmosphere of joy and love of music which is “that little extra” that belonging to Aspiro seems to bring.
Karen Kelly is a member of the Carlow based Aspiro choir for the past 15 years and has now taken on the challenge of a leadership role within the Aspiro team. Karen is a graduate of NUI Maynooth, having studied Geography and Music with a major in performance. During this time Karen studied Voice under the direction of Soprano Virginia Kerr. Karen had also just graduated from Hibernia College with a Higher Diploma in Arts in Primary Education.