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Column: 'Singing together, standing equally, our backgrounds didn't matter'

Aisling McCormick, Musical Director of Discovery Gospel Choir, shares her experiences about how the arts can be used to break down social, racial and educational barriers.

Aisling McCormick

I’VE ALWAYS BEEN passionate about discovering ways in which the arts can be used to break down social, racial and educational barriers often faced by young people from different countries and backgrounds.

As Musical Director of Discovery Gospel Choir, I work with singers and musicians hailing from 17 countries across the world, and from all walks of life, so I’m lucky enough to be able to practice what I preach.

Our choir was formed at a time when Irish society was rapidly changing and becoming more diverse than it had ever been in the past. Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, people from all over the world migrated to Ireland, and chose this country as their new home.

At the beginning, the founders of Discovery very deliberately reached out to migrant communities to source singers and musicians for the choir, with the result that we became the most multicultural choir in Ireland. Ten years later, our membership is still really diverse, with some of our members from as far afield as Singapore, Zambia, India and Zimbabwe.

We sang for Archbishop Desmond Tutu

I first became involved with this kind of work when I was in Transition Year back in 2002 (which I suppose gives away my age!). At the time I was invited to attend a retreat which focused on refugees in Ireland and integration, and was facilitated by Philip McKinley. Later that year, Philip invited me to perform at an event aimed at raising money to buy a goat for a Ugandan family along with a group of Nigerian, Ugandan, Irish and Korean musicians. I was intrigued. As a singer with a love of music, learning Nigerian praise songs, and dancing to the djembe drum was very exciting!

Not long after that, Philip invited me to sing with a young Ugandan girl who had recently moved to Ireland to seek asylum, for a televised ecumenical service one Sunday morning. We sang in English and Ugandan, and Justine and I became firm friends. My eyes were opened when I met her in her accommodation on Francis Street, and I couldn’t understand how she got by on €19.10 a week. At this stage I had a part-time job and still got some pocket money. Justine and I were the same age and although we were from very different backgrounds, we discovered that we had a lot in common and shared a love of music. Having that opportunity to sing together, standing equally, our backgrounds didn’t matter, we were just doing what we loved.

About a year later, Philip founded Discovery Gospel Choir and Justine and I became founding members. On the first anniversary of the choir, we sang for Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I was 18 and didn’t realise at the time just how significant it all was. But looking back now, I can see that, in a sense, the choir represented a very positive aspect of a rapidly diversifying Ireland at that time.

A second home

Since then we’ve performed at the Meteor Awards and Electric Picnic; sung with Kila, the Republic of Loose, Sinead O’Connor, Celtic Women and the Blind Boys of Alabama; and now, a decade on, we’re getting ready to kick off our 10th anniversary celebrations with a concert this weekend.

We’ve decided to call this concert ‘Home’ to reflect the fact that Discovery Gospel Choir has served as a home of sorts for many of its members over the past decade. Lots of our singers and musicians were newly arrived migrants when they joined the choir so, for them, being a part of Discovery was about much more than music and singing. It allowed them to forge links in their new home country; meet people and make friends; and develop a sense of belonging and even one of family.

It’s not just our international members who value the choir in that way: many of our Irish members would also describe the choir and the sense of belonging it gives them as a second home. With our anniversary concert taking place during the St Patrick’s Festival weekend, we hope the theme will resonate with audiences too, as people return home and many more visit Dublin for the first time to celebrate our national holiday.

The ‘Home’ anniversary concert will take place at 8pm on Saturday, 15 March at Christ Church Cathedral, Christ Church Place, Dublin, Dublin 8. Tickets be purchased through entertainment.ie for €12 (concession of €10 for OAPs, students and the unwaged).  A small number of tickets will also be available on the door on the night, on a ‘first come, first served’ basis.  Doors will open at 7.30pm.  For further information, see www.discoverygospelchoir.com

To donate to Discovery Gospel Choir’s Fundit campaign to raise money for the choir to record a new album, follow this link: http://fundit.ie/project/discovery-acapella-album

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About the author:

Aisling McCormick

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