"It’s not about getting it perfect or showing off, but enjoying how good it feels to just sing."
It’s a Wednesday night and I am doing a whoop and a boom in a big room in Harold’s Cross with about 150 other people. Before you get the wrong idea, we’re not up to anything dodgy. A whoop and a boom is a vocal warmup, and we are a choir.
From primary school to college, singing was my primary pastime. I was in choirs and musicals and an S Club Juniors-inspired girl group (we auditioned for the Toy Show and didn’t get picked, but were shown on what I like to call the ‘rejects reel’. Highlight of my life). I sang at Mass and at weddings and in the beds of lorries in town squares around Mayo. I competed in the Feis Ceoil in my hometown every year, and spent hours in rehearsals at various arts centres, school halls, and theatres. It was my life, basically. But when I joined the working world six years ago, I sort of… broke up with music. Removed from college societies and my choirs and groups back home, I wasn’t sure what to do about my love of singing, so I didn’t do anything.
You wouldn’t think it given the glimpse at my musical CV there, but I’m weirdly shy about singing. It feels like I’m showing people something very personal. When I open my mouth to sing in front of others I want it to be absolutely right, or I’d rather not do it at all (which is why I’m absolutely useless in a sing song/karaoke situation. The actual terror of it). And as the years elapsed, that shyness increased. I missed singing, of course, but the fear of not being good enough was stronger. It had been such a long time since I had sung properly. What if I couldn’t do it anymore?
In January 2018, however, I realised that the only way to snap out of this funk was to take action. I researched choirs that did pop music in Dublin and by chance, a choir called The Line Up was having auditions that very week. I went for it, shaking with adrenaline but also a desire to prove myself, if only to myself. When I got warmed up and reached for the notes, they were there – a little rusty to be sure, but ready for me. And so was The Line Up.
The choir was founded seven years ago by Roisin Savage at the behest of her sisters, who wanted to join a group that did contemporary pop, rock and soul songs. Running The Line Up is Roisin’s full-time job – she composes all of the intricate choral arrangements herself, and records tapes of herself singing through each part (soprano, alto, and tenor) for us to learn from. “That’s a creative process. You can spend anything from 20 minutes to 20 hours on an arrangement, and still have loads of different ideas floating about,” she tells me. It was important to her that the focus was on connecting to the songs, and that the choir was open to people who hadn’t studied music formally.
“Sheet music is a barrier for many people. I don’t like members to get into the habit of clutching on to lyric sheets or scores, but to get more into feeling the music and creating that connection with the audience,” she says. It also helps us create a connection with each other. When Roisin tells you to look the person next to you dead in the eyes as you sing Hold Me Now, you get to know them fairly quickly.
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“I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason…” Listen to our gorgeous first time soloists with the choir Susan McGeough (Glinda) and Valerie Loftus (Elphaba) deliver this beautiful message about friendship. The full song is on our Facebook page. Thanks to Siobhán Savage for the footage. * * Song: “For Good” from the musical “Wicked” Songwriter: Stephen Schwartz Originally performed by Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth Choral Arrangement and MD: Róisín Savage Keys: Aengus Devine Recorded in Christ Church Cathedral on Saturday May 25th 2019 #thelineupchoir #irishchoir #choir #dublin #ireland #christchurchcathedral #wicked #wickedthemusical #forgood #elphaba #glinda #idinamenzel #kristinchenoweth
Every Wednesday, we gather to learn new songs, prepare for gigs (The Line Up has performed on The Late Late Show and recently, at the 3Arena with Hugh Jackman) and have the craic, too. Everyone has a different level of prior experience – there are some members who sang in the shower before they joined, some who’ve been in choirs all their lives, still others who are old pros when it comes to music. But it doesn’t really matter how good you think you are or what you did before. As Roisin says, it’s all about what you bring to the table in rehearsals. You have to put in the work.
“It’s a learning experience. Your listening skills are incredibly important, as well as how you work with your fellow choir members,” she explains. “Listening skills have really helped us, because I tend to sometimes change arrangements, and the choir has become so flexible.”
Studies have found that singing in a choir is beneficial to your physical and mental health, as well as your social life. More and more workplaces are setting up in-house choirs as a way for staff to relieve stress, bond, and crucially, have fun. Last year, Roisin started Casual Choir, a fortnightly offshoot of The Line Up for those who want to sing, but can’t commit to weekly rehearsals and gigs. It’s clear people are flocking to choirs because singing in a group makes them feel great, but what does Roisin get from being on the other side?
“Just the feeling in rehearsals on a Wednesday night. We’re all there for the same reason. When we finish a song or a phrase and you all take a breath at the same time or finish a note exactly at the same spot, it’s just exhilarating,” Roisin notes. “It’s so hard to explain to people what it’s like with so many people and so many voices. I always say I’m in the prime position in rehearsals and at gigs, because I have 150 people singing to me. I can hear the most beautiful blend of voices singing and harmonising together. It’s just amazing.”
I ask her what she’d say to people who would like to join a choir, but are scared to take the plunge.
“I think as human beings we tend to think we’re not good enough for anything, and with the voice in particular, it feels like you’re exposing yourself on a whole other level, compared to other instruments. I get that people are nervous or might think twice about it, but I just say go for it. There are so many different groups, it’s about finding the right fit. Finding your tribe.”
I understand exactly what she means about feeling exposed. But a year and a half on, it seems silly that I waited such a long time to join a choir, to do the thing that makes me so happy. There’s that uplifting, slightly giddy feeling in rehearsals that has me there even if I’m dog tired, and stays with me until I go to sleep later that night. There’s the soaring pleasure of hitting a note, disappearing into a song, hearing a hundred unique voices come together to create something beautiful. It’s not about getting it perfect or showing off, but enjoying how good it feels to just sing.