The High Hopes Choir is a group of singers who are united by their experiences of homelessness. The original RTÉ documentary features choirs from Waterford and Dublin. On Monday evening, my request to attend the Dublin rehearsal was accepted. The Focus Ireland staff I dealt with were so accommodating and I really enjoyed being witness to this group at work.
When I walked into the northside chapel where they rehearse, I was greeted by about 20 seated singers engaging in the usual pre-rehearsal chit-chat. Feeling very much the outsider, I was soon welcomed by Glenn of Focus Ireland and the choir master, Carmel Whelan. Although I was completely unaware of who was taking the High Hopes Choir since David Brophy stepped down in December, I met Carmel for the first time a few weeks ago! She was a delegate at the 3rd Anúna International Summer School, which took place in Dublin from 24th - 27th June 2015. We had 50 delegates from 14 different countries. I was a facilitator of that Summer School, so it’s a strange coincidence then that I walked in on her working with her own choir. I suppose that’s Dublin for you!
Carmel got to work warming up the voices that had had a week off. Normally, the group meets every Monday, but due to illness, the previous week’s rehearsal had been cancelled. This is a very uncommon occurrence, but I was told that it can have a knock-on effect in attendance. The singers are used to the routine, and upsetting this routine can be a put-off. Right enough – numbers were down from the 35-strong choir that usually turns up. It is fantastic to see the commitment of these individuals and the ongoing drive to make music. For any musician, this is everything. It's all the more inspiring due to the obvious hardships that go hand in hand with homelessness, the extent of which most of us cannot begin to fathom.
The High Hopes Choir works according to the direction of a committee made up of the singers themselves. Focus Ireland, the Dublin Simon Community and St. Vincent de Paul collaborate on the choir, but decisions are taken internally amongst the singers. And they are in demand! Performing at Áras an Uachtaráin last weekend – a week before our Nova Collective gig there – and looking forward now to a set at Electric Picnic.
The thing I noticed most was the concentration and intent during rehearsal. And the laughter. They all seemed to be having a great time. They’ve created a community and a purpose. This is what singing together is all about: unity. I hope to remain involved in some capacity with the High Hopes Choir. I left the place on a buzz. There are so many community arts initiatives of value and the High Hopes Choir is certainly making waves.
Carmel asked me to sing a song before I left. After all, they’d let me sing with them. I chose to sing The Sheepstealers. That song tells a story about a man doing something that he knows is wrong. But he does it because he has to.