Michel Durham and Tomás Burke, two friends with a love of singing and choral harmonies, founded The Galway Gospel Choir in 2001. Durham, www.durhamvoicestudio.ie, as a graduate of Choral Conducting and Vocal Music Education, brought the musical expertise whilst Burke, a medical student, handled the organization. They identified a gap for a contemporary gospel ensemble in Galway’s active choral community.
The first rehearsal was announced via an advertisement in a local paper and the response was encouraging. Within a couple of months, 200 singers and prospective singers were attending the weekly rehearsals. No previous musical experience or knowledge was required. Michel arranged most of the songs and all harmonies were taught by ear. “Can’t sing? … We’ll teach you!” was the founding motto that attracted lots of members who’d never sung prior to joining. Ever since, The Galway Gospel Choir has helped hundreds of people to find their voice in an open and supportive environment.
There were teething problems in the early years, not least finding suitable and affordable rehearsal space for the growing ensemble. From humble beginnings in the Bank of Ireland Theatre at NUIG to a stint in the City Library and reliance on the kindness of Galwegians, the choir has survived and thrived. With its dedicated rehearsal space at The Atlantic Language School, Fairgreen House, Fairgreen Road, Galway (see map on home page), The Galway Gospel Choir meets weekly on Wednesdays from 7.30 sharp to 10pm.
While musical scores are followed in the learning of songs, the ability to sight-read music is not a requirement for joining the choir. MP3 files of the actual songs, broken down into their respective parts, are shared via Dropbox, a free online file sharing system. Choir members can download the audio from Dropbox to practice their parts in advance of each rehearsal. The song scores are also emailed to members who are responsible for printing off their own copies. New members are also given copies of the choir’s entire repertoire since its 2001 inception.
Members get more from the experience when they practice the songs daily. This is particularly the case for performances or competitions. While performing live to an audience is the choir’s primary purpose, competitions are also important. Says musical director, Michel Durham: “They force us to perfect pieces for an audience who will judge and give us a mark. Otherwise we can get sloppy. It’s not the most important thing we do but it certainly pulls everyone together… and, given our track record to date in events like the Cork International Choral Festival and the Mayo International Choral Festival, in which we scored in the top half of the pack and were winners in Mayo in 2011, it’s a great boost to our confidence.”
For Michel Durham, The Galway Gospel Choir is like a family:
“Ever since I was 6 years old, I sang in a choir and when I came to Galway first I knew I needed a group of kindred spirits around me. Starting a choir was the most natural way of doing that. I was only 25 years old and full of hippy ideals so everything was very loose and off the cuff. We still have some of our founding members. It’s as if we’ve all grown up together in tandem with the choir. Through experience and a desire to learn more challenging pieces, The Galway Gospel Choirhas evolved from a loose singing circle in to one of Ireland’s top ranking gospel choirs and it’s fun!”