“EVERYBODY’S got a voice in the choir — they sing out loud and they sing out strong — delighted with being part of a meaningful social group.”
This 60-strong group of ladies are part of The Sonatinas Choir, based in Glanmire.
“When we stop singing, the noise is laughing,” says Ger Moloney, who is one of the original members of the ensemble, formed in April 2016.
“I have a Facebook group page, the Mums of Glanmire,” says Ger, who has three daughters. She also has a career.
“Niamh Nash helps out with the Facebook group that has 6,000 mums following it, when I’m gone to my real job!” says Ger.
“It’s all about sharing ideas and activities for adults and children in the locality, and about promoting local businesses. When someone asked if there was any choir, Rachel O’ Brien, of the Sonatina Music Academy, sent me a message and I tagged people. All our neighbours saw it and responded. Now we have capped the numbers for the choir, as the uptake was so enthusiastic.”
There is a keen waiting list to join The Sonatinas Choir, promoting the healthy drug of calming therapeutic chorus singing, offering the natural high of comfort and joy.
“We have a cross-section of young mothers in the choir,” says choir director Rachel O’Brien.
“They organise baby-sitters for their children so that they can come to rehearsals regularly.
“They love being part of the choir and they hardly ever miss a Wednesday night for rehearsal. The mums all want to be there for the choir.”
When Mary O’Sullivan, originally of Midleton, had to undergo weekly therapy after having breast lumpectomy surgery, she still kept her place in the choir.
“I had chemotherapy on Monday and I had choir on Wednesday,” says Mary.
“I felt bad after my chemotherapy treatment on Tuesdays, but I looked forward to choir practice on Wednesdays and I dragged myself along. I’ve never missed choir.”
Mary’s spirits soared, revisiting one of her first loves.
“I’ve always loved live music. I stop on every street corner to hear buskers playing. I knew I wouldn’t be taking up an instrument but I could join a choir.
“Since I joined three weeks after my cancer diagnosis, I’ve never looked back,” she said.
Recalling her diagnosis, Mary said: “I worked as HR manager. I was on my way to board a flight to Heathrow when I felt the lump on my breast. That was at 5am. I cancelled the trip to London. By 9.30am, I was in my GP’s surgery who shipped me off the Bons Secours Hospital in Cork for further tests.”
Mary, mindful that breast cancer was in the family, had regular breast checks.
“Five people in my mother’s family had breast cancer,” says the mother-of-two. “So it would be on the top of my mind to be aware of that. My breast checks all showed up clear.”
This time, things were different.
“When I met the surgeon, Mr Gough, at the Bons, he said, ‘I’d be worried about that’.
“After I had a mammogram and a biopsy, I had to wait a few days for the results, not knowing if I had breast cancer or not. I underwent a lumpectomy and the surgeon took a node for testing. Fortunately, the results were good,” says Mary.
“The cancer hadn’t spread. It was contained. I got a bad fright though.”
Mary didn’t do much singing over the Christmas period in December, 2016.
“I sat by the fire, thinking, ‘will I be here next year?’ It was a frightening time.”
She had positive thoughts as well.
“I thought, ‘have I any regrets?’ And I hadn’t,” says Mary. “My husband, John, is my best friend and I am very proud of my son, Cathal, and my daughter, Rebecca. I had no regrets.”
Now that she had a new lease of life, Mary wanted to try something new, something she always aspired to. The Sonatinas Choir beckoned, promising to restore, renew and fortify.
“I love musicals,” says Mary. “And I thought, why not join a choir? I walked into The Sonatinas Choir and I’ve never looked back.
“You can go to choir and be troubled or feel down. But you come out floating on cloud nine. It is better than any yoga session!”
And without any contortions?
“That’s right,” says Mary, laughing. “Although we do breathing exercises and we practice vocal techniques. We are all a team who share a beautiful friendship.”
Uncertainty, doubt and disillusion can be diluted when a song is summoned from inside your body, harmonising mind and body alike.
“And it is even better when 60 voices are singing together,” says Mairead Falvey, who is celebrating her third anniversary at The Sonatinas Choir on the day we meet.
“The sense of camaraderie and belonging is magical,” adds Mairead, a former bank employee.
She felt lost and isolated when she received an ovarian cancer diagnosis in October 2015.
“It was a big shock,” says Mairead. “After I had a blood test, I had a scan two days later. My surgeon in the Bons Secours hospital told me that time was of the essence. I had a 21cm tumour and I had to have a hysterectomy. Luckily, the cancer hadn’t spread, but I had to have chemotherapy treatment as a precaution.”
When Mairead finished her treatment in March, she decided it was time to broaden her horizons.
“I had worked in a very busy environment. I wanted to find something soothing and uplifting.”
She found both of those things when she joined the local choir.
“My sister saw the ad for the choir,” says Mairead. “I put a note in my diary the night the choir was starting: April 6.”
She has had a regular diary date ever since.
“I am with the choir since it started,” says Mairead. “When I had no great energy I got the energy from the singing sessions.”
With a renewed sense of purpose, she was committed to the close-knit group.
“I wanted to be there for the choir. I love it,” says Mairead. “It is a wonderful social outlet. We all have a brilliant time.”
She also motivates others.
“I ring the bell when we’re starting rehearsals,” Mairead says. “Sometimes everyone is talking. The members catch up between songs. We all know each other and love to chat!”
But there is a downside too of sorts!
“Now I can’t get round SuperValu,” says Mairead. “I know everyone!”
Rachel O’Brien knows her choir members are intent on making the sweet sound of music together.
“We are a great team,” says Rachel, who is a classically trained musician.
“When we started in Glounthaune Community Centre, word started spreading.”
The majority of choir members are in the Sonatinas choir since day one.
“The ladies have a magnificent attendance record and they never turn anything down,” says Rachel.
“We sang for Glanmire’s first Darkness into Light walk and we sing for Santa! Our first public concert was in City Hall for Enable Ireland.
“This year we are supporting ARC House and Temple Street Children’s Hospital.”
The ladies know how to celebrate.
“Once a month, we go to the Widows pub in Glanmire after rehearsals,” says Rachel. “Often local musicians join us there on special occasions for a sing-song.”
The choir has many strings to its bow.
“We won the Feis Maitiu at the Holy Trinity Church and we won the Feile an Tsamhraidh in Midleton this year.”
The Sonatinas Choir is full of joie de vivre.
“The friendship and enthusiasm is really wonderful,” says Rachel.
On Sunday, December 18, The Sonatinas Choir, the Hill Harmonics Choir, and The Starlings, are joined by the Cork Prison Officers Male Voice Choir for A Christmas Carol Choral Concert at the Everyman Theatre, at 8pm. It is a fundraising concert for ARC house and Temple Street Children’s University Hospital., , ?, and are just a few of the many songs that will be performed. Tickets €15, book on https://www.everymancork.com