Meet Emma, the tutor of our new 2021 choir – first session FREE

Choir

Singing music you love with others is amazing and our new choir for ages 15-plus gives you the chance to do just that. No auditions, no pressure – just music.

Ahead of the first FREE session on Wednesday, 15 September, we spoke to tutor Emma O’Reilly, a vocal coach and independent singer-songwriter who has toured Ireland, the UK and the US.

She’s worked with and directed choirs for years, performing everything from Beethoven’s 9th to Daft Punk’s Discovery album. 

She’s sung everywhere from the Royal Albert Hall and festivals to more unusual spaces like the Natural History Museum of Ireland.

Emma’s also doing a Masters at The Voice Centre.

Q: It’s an interesting time to be launching The Choir, with amateur singing having taken such a hit due to Covid restrictions?

We don’t know what’s going to happen yet. I don’t think we’re going to have the security to be able to be really planning chorally for another year. But I’m up for giving it a go.

You’ve put your back behind it, you see the value of it and you make a lot of room for the teacher to tell you how things are working. 

The Garage does its best to do right by its students so, it’s not a great time to start a choir but if you’re going to, you’re the organisation to do it with.

Q: What will you be getting up to in the class?

It’s going to be informed by what the group responds to. I’m going to throw a couple of bits and pieces at them but I like to think we’ll get really adventurous with the music. I’ve been listening to Spotify like crazy.

We’ll start off on a pop basis. We’ll be looking at everything from classic hits to what’s charting. We’ll be learning about the different elements of how we can mix those things together to get a nice group sound. 

I’d be really happy to touch on West End musical theatre stuff too.

I’ll be letting them know about my process, my philosophy of making music and getting to know them – “do you like that”, “do you know that song”, “what albums do you recommend”. We’ll work together to produce mash-ups…

Q: Like in Pitch Perfect?

There’s some aspects of what they do in those kind of movies that are achievable and there are others that are quite hard. That can be a really great learning experience, finding what’s hard and what’s really skilled.

Q: What else will you be doing?

We’ll also do full interpretations of pieces. I’m keen to do a lot of myth busting around the voice – how theirs works, understanding how to make exactly the sounds they want to make and get them singing as healthily as I can.

It’s good to give people a broad spectrum of genres. The way youngsters consume music now is so different to how we would’ve. We would’ve grown up listening to what was available, what we could actually physically get our hands on.

Kids, it’s vast the things they’re into. We’re going to find commonalities with pop rock, popular stuff and musical theatre. Their knowledge and awareness of acts outside that, how they’re encountering music and how that’s filtering into their singing is interesting.

Q: What are you like as a choir leader?

My ethos with music making, with singing, is that it’s good for people and everyone can do it. I also think there’s a lot of noise and misinformation out there about what a voice actually is, what it can do and how to achieve it’s best.

There’s not enough emphasis on everyone’s instrument is unique and worth learning about and developing. I also believe people move at their own rate and in honouring their artistry as much as possible.

The teacher isn’t better than the student. I might know more about certain topics but I don’t know their life, their journey, their instrument. I don’t process the words in the way they do.

If I’ve got no room for their stories, their way of seeing the world, I’m just going to get stuck in my own little time warp and I’m not going to learn any of the things they have to offer.

It’s about respect and teamwork. The role of a teacher in a room is to be someone we agree we’re allowing to make the decisions that need to be made to move on.

It needs to be collaborative. I always refer to choirs as democratic dictatorships because at their best they are that but if everybody said “we hate this song” I’d need to have a really solid reason for continuing to do it.

Q: When did you know singing was for you?

I can’t remember a moment exactly, but I can remember a moment where other people realised it and my reaction to it was like “duh”, which was really arrogant of me.

I was 10 or something and I was very fortunate that at the primary school I went to in the west of Ireland there was a heavy focus on the arts. 

We always had a Christmas concert. We had dance lessons. We had speech and drama lessons. We had little plays the teachers made up for us.

We did a little junior version of Grease one year. I was singing Hopelessly Devoted To You or something like that and people were like “oh wow, you can sing” and I was like “why is anybody surprised by this”. I knew within myself.

I owe a lot to that school because arts and singing was just a normal part of your day. Everyone was doing it, even the shy kids. 

They might not do a lead role but they’d get up on stage and do the dance or their one line or whatever. Everyone was comfortable in that space.

Q: I’m trying to picture a junior version of Grease?

They took a lot out of it [laughs].

Q: I wish more schools were able to integrate the arts that way

That’s what happens when the curriculum is a bit more open. A lot of it hadn’t been standardised at that time in Ireland. 

Because it was a new school and student numbers were so small we were able to do a lot of those things. We were able to make sure everyone was onboard and everyone had a job or thing they needed to do.

When we progressed to secondary education the teachers there would comment on how all the students from our primary school always had a bit of confidence – they’d read in class, happily answer questions.

The approach within the school was “we’re not doing this to check boxes, we’re doing this because it’s fun, it’s creative and it’s a good thing to do”. Music for music’s sake and art for art’s sake is more powerful in some ways.

It’s empowering people to know what they’re capable of. When you think about it, a lot of people conceptually minimise the places where that skillset can be used. We think of having to give a presentation at work.

But it can like having a difficult conversation with a colleague or telling the waitress they’ve given you the wrong food. Tiny day-to-day things, being assertive and setting boundaries take a huge amount of confidence in yourself.

Your sense of worth and being practiced at standing up and speaking for yourself or interacting in a way that’s creative and feeling respected teaches you the difference between when someone is gaslighting you and when someone isn’t.

If you have an experience of support you can recognise when you’re in a situation that isn’t. That’s mental health, that’s staying out of bad relationships, the implications of the arts is so far reaching.

For young people to have an outlet to express what matters to them is important. Every time they step out into the world and make a decision to try or go for something, that has a lasting impact – especially if they have a positive experience.

Q: Why should people join The Choir?

It’s not about you fitting the mold. It’s for you and you’re for the choir – just as you are.

Reminder: Our autumn term of classes starts 13 September. Find out more about those and our accredited courses.

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