West Cork choir is still hitting the right notes 50 years on

Next month, all female choir Glaslinn will mark their 50th anniversary with a special concert. CHRIS DUNNE caught up with the ladies to talk about how the group has survived for five decades
West Cork choir is still hitting the right notes 50 years on

MARKING A MILESTONE: Glaslinn Choir gearing up to celebrate their 50th anniversary with a concert on May 24, at St Patrick's Church in Bandon, pictured with Linda Kelly and Dan Twomey.

THE First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald said: ‘The only thing better than singing is more singing’ — and the 30-plus members of the Glaslinn Choir in Bandon sing Amen to that.

“The camaraderie and the sense of belonging to such a social group, is wonderfully uplifting,” says Margaret Desmond, who has been a member of Glasslin Choir for more than four decades.

The three-part female choir is celebrating its golden anniversary, 50 years, with a fund-raising concert on May 24, at St Patrick’s Church, Bandon, in aid of two charities; Bandon Hyperbaric Oxygen Centre and ARC Cancer Support House.

“They are two charities that are close to our hearts,” says Helen O’Mahony, PRO.

“On the night, we will have two guest soloists, soprano Linda Kenny, and tenor Dan Twomey, both of whom have West Cork connections.”

The choir, which first took to the stage back in 1969, one of the first adult community choirs in Bandon, had its first meeting at the town’s old Community School, now St. Brogan’s.

“The choir’s ethos hasn’t changed over the years,” says Helen.

“We are still a very sociable bunch and we are always looking for ways to support local charities.”

To celebrate the momentous milestone this year, the choir also headed off to Amsterdam to take part in the Canate Choir Festival there in March.

Chairperson, Carol-Ann Horgan said: “Apart from singing and interacting with other choirs from abroad; we enjoy seeing the sights and a bit of shopping is often on the itinerary!”

WINNERS: Glaslinn Choir with conductor Antoinette Baker, at the AIMS Choral Festival in New Ross in May, 2018, where it won first place in the Sacred Music Competition.
WINNERS: Glaslinn Choir with conductor Antoinette Baker, at the AIMS Choral Festival in New Ross in May, 2018, where it won first place in the Sacred Music Competition.

The choir like to keep it local too.

“A special pendant featuring the beautiful West Cork Fuchsia, has been commissioned from local jewellery designer, Catherine Ronan,” says Carol-Ann.

Like the flowing Bandon river, Glaslinn, from which the choir got its name, the ladies pool together, singing in unison, keeping the vibrant choir alive and staying on song for five decades.

“I joined the choir in 1978, over 40 years ago,” says June Traynor, treasurer. “I left the choir when my children came along, but I always returned. So really, I never left! We have a very strong solid, core group.”

Glaslinn choir began as an SATB choir under the Vocational Education Music Scheme in the old ‘Tech’, Vocational School. Tom Powell was appointed the Glaslinn’s Choir first conductor. The group has played host to choirs from the UK, Sweden, Bulgaria and also the Cossack Russian dancers, among others. The visitors were then treated to tea, cakes and sandwiches, supplied by the choir members and a sociable evening followed.

Glaslinn Choir have another string to their bow.

“Sociability is a huge part of our group,” says Carol-Ann.

The choir from Bulgaria weren’t quite used to the West Cork hospitality. They were on the bus ready to go home, only to be told in no uncertain terms that ‘the girls’ had made buns and sandwiches and that they were going to eat them! A great evening ensued.

Things haven’t changed over the years.

“We enjoy a social evening every month after our Wednesday evening rehearsal,” Margaret says.

“There are great bakers among us and a cuppa and a chat give us the chance to catch up with each other, which is important. We are all great friends.

“The choir took part in the 1970 International Choral Festival and won one of the competitions that year,” says Carol Ann.

Conductor Antoinette Baker (centre) with soprano Linda Kenny and tenor Dan Twomey at the launch night for the 50th anniversary Gala Concert.
Conductor Antoinette Baker (centre) with soprano Linda Kenny and tenor Dan Twomey at the launch night for the 50th anniversary Gala Concert.

The choir went from strength to strength over the years, performing in concerts with The Cork Youth Orchestra, The Band of Southern Command, Sean O’Sé, and as guests at Cór Fhéile na Scol.

It also participated in competitions at Pan Celtic Festivals, Feis Maitiú in Cork and many other charitable and social events.

When a shortage of male voices necessitated a switch to an all-female choir in 2005, the sisters began doing it for themselves.

“We have people from all walks of life from Bandon and the surrounding area,” says Helen.

Do you need a good voice or musical talent to join the choir?

“You don’t even have to be that good a singer,” says Helen, smiling.

“You just have to be up for some good-old fashioned fun!

“We are a community based choir and there are no auditions; just come along and join in.”

Musical Director, Antoinette Baker, will determine your place in the choir.

“Yes, Antoinette might hold a mini-audition,” says Helen.

“She has a trained musical ear.”

Mini-auditions don’t hit a sour note with potential choir members.

“We’re firstly a sociable group that come together to sing and enjoy music,” says Helen.

“Apart from the many charitable events and competitions we have taken part in, we have also travelled to other competitions and events around Ireland and Europe down through the years.”

IN FULL VOICE: The Glaslinn Choir at the Spring Melodies Concert in Skibbereen in March, 2016.
IN FULL VOICE: The Glaslinn Choir at the Spring Melodies Concert in Skibbereen in March, 2016.

The choir members are a committed bunch, staying loyal to their close-knit harmonious group.

“We meet every Wednesday night. Our repertoire changes from traditional, classical, religious, to modern pop and rock,” says Helen.

“We have great fun and we are still very competitive.”

Margaret, who is originally from Co. Cavan, discovered that joining Glaslinn Choir gave her the opportunity to make new friends and get immersed in the community.

“There is a real ‘feelgood’ element singing in the choir,” says Margaret.

“I joined when I came to live in Bandon, and I was able to sing!

“Singing with a group has proven to be beneficial for our mental health. Becoming part of the choir, you reap the rewards.”

The ladies’ love of singing is infectious, spreading the sweet sound of music.

“We were delayed at Berlin Airport once, and we entertained the passengers waiting to board,” says Helen.

Good news travels fast.

“When we boarded the plane for Cork, the captain invited us to sing.”

The enthusiastic ladies duly obliged.

“We sang one of our favourites, Hallelujah, by Leonard Cohen.”

They are past winners of the Association of Irish Musical Societies (AIMS). “We won in New Ross,” says Helen.

The ladies enjoyed the festive atmosphere and the attentive audience.

“It was like the Oscars! The adrenaline rush when we were announced was fantastic. It is great to inter-mingle with other choirs; we usually stay after the competitions and party!”

It’s not all fun and games.

Linda Kenny and Dan Twomey with Antoinette Baker, as they launched the anniversary concert set for May 24
Linda Kenny and Dan Twomey with Antoinette Baker, as they launched the anniversary concert set for May 24

The ladies, so proud of Glasslin Choir, put in the mammoth effort required for good results.

“Before a performance, we go easy on dairy, chocolate and caffeine,” say Helen.

“Dairy can tend to clog the airways, building up mucus. We don’t drink too much coffee; so that we are relaxed and calm.

“We get plenty of rest and don’t talk much before the warm-up for the performance.”

Musical Director Antoinette puts the choir members through their paces, ensuring they sing out loud and strong.

“We practice breathing exercises and vocal techniques,” says Helen.

The ladies are fully committed members of their team who share beautiful friendships.

“We always turn up for practice without fail,” says Helen.

“And during the week we have committee meetings organising up-coming trips and events.”

And then there’s the homework.

“We are sent the score and recordings ahead of rehearsals,” says Helen.

“We learn the words of the songs. We don’t use folders so that there is no barrier between ourselves and the audience, making a better connection between us. Concentrating on the conductor, more intensity is created.”

More housework is often created.

“That’s often put on the back burner!” says Margaret, laughing. “And we have very supportive husbands!”

So it’s a case of all for one and one for all?

“That’s it!” says Helen.

What do the members put down to the longevity of Glaslinn Choir?

“We have a great reputation,” says Carol-Ann. “The loyalty and dedication are powerful elements to our group. We are all very united.”

The West Cork ensemble agrees singing together creates a unique bond between young and old.

“We all enjoy the bond,” says Helen. “It’s like being a part of a big family. When you join, you don’t leave, unless you retire!”

Others are also happy to tune in to the good vibes. “Our fan club is very loyal!” concludes Helen.

Tickets for the Glaslinn Anniversary Concert, at St Patrick's Church, Bandon in aid of Bandon Hyperbaric Oxygen Centre and ARC Cancer Support House, are on sale from O’Farrells and Hickeys newsagents, Brooke’s Pharmacy and at the Bandon Hyperbaric Oxygen Centre. Adults: €20, children and students €10.

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