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Dublin: 7 °C Tuesday 19 March, 2019

'It's impossible to feel sad and sing at the same time'

Starting seven years ago the CÓRus singing classes now has around 800 students in the Dublin area and have plans to go nationwide.


“IF YOU CAN sing Happy Birthday, which everybody has sung once at least, then you can sing,” says Mary Lowe O’Gorman, co-founder of CÓRus.

She and Yvonne McDonald, CÓRus’s other co-founder, originally met in a youth choir when they were teenagers, though it wasn’t until years later when they were both separately going through the process of adopting a child that they reconnected.

“We were sitting in Yvonne’s kitchen one day,” says Lowe O’Gorman, “and talking about choirs and singing and fun and thought, ‘Why don’t we start a class?’”

Both women have backgrounds in the film and television industries with Lowe O’Gorman spending time running a gospel choir. She, herself, also has a professional singing career.

“If we loved the opportunity just to sing for fun, then there must be others,” says McDonald.

They printed up one hundred flyers, organised a room at St Tiernan’s Community School in Dundrum and set out 12 chairs. To their surprise, 40 people showed up – and over the past seven years the numbers have risen steadily.

They now have 800 students across 15 classes in the Dublin area, with plans to expand. All students sing together in a group and learn some dance moves as well.

The age requirement is from 18 upwards and the women say that they have seen all sorts in their classes; twenty-somethings and eighty-year-olds together singing everything from Elvis songs to Lady Gaga.

“There’s very few opportunities for people to be in something that’s inter-generational,” says McDonald.

There is also no audition process and you don’t have to be able to read music.

Shows like the X-Factor and The Voice can make people feel so vulnerable because it makes people think if you don’t have a perfect voice then you shouldn’t sing.

But Yvonne says human beings are designed to sing; ever since the dark ages when tribes would gather together, singing was a community practice, she says – a practice that the women say can lead to better health and wellbeing.

“You can’t feel down and be at a class and sing for an hour and half. It’s impossible to feel sad and sing at the same time,” says Mary.

We’ve had people coming up to us and saying, ‘I’ve been battling cancer or lost my husband and this hour-and-a-half really lifts me up.’

They say there’s research out there that shows the benefits of singing together – even the very act of breathing at the same time as other people in a room is known to create a sense of bonding.

Yvonne says that the hormone oxytocin gets released when you sing – the same hormone that gets released during intimate moments.

“And while eating chocolate,” Mary adds.

Whatever the reason, those who attend a CÓRus class appear to get a lot out of it.

“I chanced upon CÓRus for the first time a few years ago when I was a patient in St Patrick’s University Hospital receiving treatment for depression and anxiety,” says Tony, a CÓRus member.

He says singing with the group nurtures his soul while Joe, a member in his 70s, attends the classes with his three daughters and son-in-law.

“You come here at night, you might be tired, you might be distracted, but you leave on a high,” he says. “It’s the best thing we ever did.”

Mary and Yvonne say they never envisioned the success that CÓRus has become – including a performance on the Late Late Show – and they believe it’s been an organic process that has shown how important singing is for people’s wellbeing.

“We want to bring about a singing revolution,” says Yvonne.

Read: ‘Ireland’s mental health festival is underway – here’s what’s happening’

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