Choir members on a High

The High Hopes Choir in Waterford is seeking new members and currently have a number of exciting projects in the pipeline

In 2014, the High Hopes Choir was formed by Ireland’s world-renowned conductor, David Brophy.He set out to help people who are homeless change their lives through music.The choir was initially made up of people affected by homelessness who, through the power of song, raised awareness of homelessness, poverty and suicide in Ireland.An independent entity which operates in Dublin, Waterford and Cork, the choir has been supported by the staff, volunteers and customers of a wide range of homeless organisations.

The choir rose to national prominence through the RTÉ TV show ‘High Hopes’ in 2014.Teaming up with music legend Christy Moore helped to further heighten the group’s profile.However, since its formation and initial success, the nature of the choir has evolved significantly.

Evolution

What started off as a choir made up of homeless people and those who work with the homeless has evolved into a choir which consists of people from a variety of different backgrounds.The High Hopes Choir is now open to anyone from any background who wishes to join.

The current chairman of the choir is South Kilkenny man Damien O’Sullivan who works as a social care worker.He first saw the choir perform at a mental health awareness function in Kilkenny where he had brought some young people.“I was blown away by the choir’s story and the songs they were singing. That was my introduction,” he explained.

Treasurer Jean Lacey, a stay at home mother with two small boys, was dealt a devastating blow in 2011 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.“When the treatment ends, that’s when things can spiral out of control for people. You sit down and look at your mortality,” she explained.

Thankfully she has made a great recovery and is now in remission.Jean was aware of the High Hopes Choir as she had watched and enjoyed the popular TV programme.“I remember thinking that I would love to be in the choir,” she explained.Prompted by her changed outlook on life following her illness, she made the decision to get involved.

“Going through something awful has brought something good to my life,” she says.Jean explained that the choir has given her something to focus on and ensures that she keeps her mind active.She encourages others to get involved and says the door is always open to new members.

“It’s a relaxed setting and you can meet with the committee beforehand if you don’t want to walk in on the first day in front of everyone,” she explained.She likens the choir to one big family and says there is a wonderful sense of camaraderie.Jean stresses that there are no auditions and no criteria for joining and all are welcome to the High Hopes family.

The High Hopes Choir pictured at City Hall, Waterford.

The High Hopes Choir pictured at City Hall, Waterford.

“Everyone’s passionate about signing, music and making friends,” she says.

“It’s great to be part of a group with such positive emotion,” added Damien.

“Everyone is in it for the right reasons.”

Helping others

Damien and Jean explained that the choir has had a remarkable impact on the lives of many others.Albert from Cork doesn’t officially have a place to stay and is going through a divorce.

“For him, the choir gives ‘release’ every week,” says Damien.“He goes in for two hours, meets the gang, has a chat, and he does a couple of solo songs. It’s his opportunity to meet new people and if he didn’t have the choir, he wouldn’t have made all these new friends.”Such is his enthusiasm for the choir, Albert arrives early and helps the musicians with their gear.

“It gives him purpose and is something for him to look forward to every week,” explains Damien.“If he’s going through any difficulties, he can pick up the phone and ring any of the committee or members.”Anita, who is dealing with mental health issues, is another enthusiastic member of the High Hopes choir.

“It’s a real confidence booster for her,” says Damien.“The choir helps combat her loneliness as, every week, she can come along and have the craic for a couple of hours.”Damien says there are many individual success stories among members of the choir, be it getting a house, moving into further education, overcoming anxiety, gaining confidence and gaining friendships.

“Some members have said that if it wasn’t for the choir, they wouldn’t be alive today,” he says.Although the demographic of the group has evolved, Jean outlined that members still travel around to local secondary schools singing and raising awareness of homelessness and drug addiction.

Des and Mona Manahan on stage at All Together Now

Des and Mona Manahan on stage at All Together Now

Further afield

While they love their local gigs, the choir also love travelling to other locations.Performances at Electric Picnic; All Together Now at Curraghmore; at Croke Park during the Papal visit; at Áras an Uachtarâin for the President; and a Civic Reception at City Hall, Waterford have further heightened the profile of the choir.

The choir have also performed in Liverpool and in Brussels at the EU Parliament.When they went to Liverpool, Damien says it was the first time many members of the choir had been on a boat, while their trip to Brussels was the first plane journey for many.

During the year, they also sang with ‘The Singing Angels’ from America.“They said they’d love to have us over so that’s something we’d like to plan for,” explained Jean.Embarking on such a trip would involve significant fundraising. However, the people of Waterford and the surrounding areas haven’t been found wanting when it comes to supporting the choir.

Damien and Jean says they have been heartened by the support which has been shown – support which was once again illustrated during a fundraising bag pack held in the city last week.

Des and Mona

There are a number of exciting events planned for the next few weeks and months which look set to ensure the High Hopes Choir will receive plenty of attention.Des Manahan is a member of the band which performs with the choir, along with Martyn Travis, Peter Curran and Joe Tobin.

Des attracted international attention when he was filmed learning how to apply his wife Mona’s make-up due to her failing eyesight.Subsequent appearances on ‘The Late Late Show’ on RTÉ; ‘This Morning on ITV; BBC news bulletins; as well as a string of other international media outlets, ensured their love story went global.

Des and Mona are keen supporters of the High Hopes Choir and have now teamed up with the members to produce ‘Inextricably Linked’, a song written by the choir’s musical director Martyn Travis.The single will be released within the coming months and looks set to garner huge interest.

It’s a busy time for the High Hopes Choir as they have also collaborated with local band Simon on a Christmas song which is set to be released soon.

Get involved

Damien and Jean would love to see more people getting involved with the choir in Waterford and are incredibly passionate and enthusiastic about the benefits which membership of the choir creates.The choir is open to those aged 18 upwards and there is no age limit.

There are currently more female members so they would like to see more men coming on board.Damien and Jean recognise that it can be difficult to get men to take that first step but have offered an assurance that everyone will be welcomed with open arms.

“We’re very friendly,” says Jean.“We’re very relaxed, we have good craic and everyone gets on really well. I don’t know what people would do without the choir if anything happened to it, including myself, I’d be devastated.”

The choir members meet at the Manor Street Youth Community Centre each Wednesday from 6pm until 7.15pm and they are grateful for the assistance of Patricia McBride in being able to do so.

For more information on the High Hopes Choir in Waterford call 085 866 5672 or email dlaceyj@gmail.com

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