Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gloria - Ireland's lesbian and gay choir - sing Christmas

We were lucky to get the last two tickets for the Glória Christmas concert last night in St Ann's Church on Dawson Street. I hadn't heard them live before and seeing as my date for the evening cancelled, we decided to get in the festive spirit with a few tunes.

I bring a few things with me everywhere I go. Phones, camera, pen, notebook, wallet etc. The notebook keeps me occupied, noting thoughts and ideas that spring up, often much to the bemusement of those sitting near me. I didn't take photos last night out of respect to the choir members, but the sight of them in black with pink stripey ties was enough to put a smile on everyone's faces.

Listening to the opening songs of "A Jubilant Gloria" and "The most wonderful time of the year" last night, I scribbled down "It's almost a pity that Glória label themselves a 'gay and lesbian choir' because they're much more than just a "something" choir, they're fantastic." If the reaction of the crowd - actually, if the numbers of the audience were anything to go by, here is obviously a group of people that puts a huge amount of work in, has a lot of support and benefits from same. Why the tag?

Voices soared last night. Musical director John Francis Murphy seems to understand the balance between male and female, between tenor, alto and soprano and used it to create great harmonies, interesting contrasts and an extremely pleasant sound. The interpretations of the songs were clever - neither rigidly traditional nor over the top gospel, we were treated to some acapella, some jazzy numbers and some where the choir just seemed to love the song.

Photos from

'Away in a Manger' was the first sing-along song and, truth be told, I almost laughed. We'll sing along in pubs, on pitches, in cars, at concerts but put people in a church and we revert to that public shyness; the fear of being told to stop singing or being laughed at seems to be something only alcohol or social events can dispel. Looking around a very mixed audience, it seemed the men were staring fixedly at anything but other people while the ladies sang along, oblivious of the male awkwardness. No, I didn't sing, I just scribbled furiously. I was as shy as the rest of them.

Our MCs on the night were entertaining and informative. "Join in", one urged, "just don't necessarily compete". Murphy, introducing Sleigh Ride, told us that this was the 100th anniversary of composer Leroy Anderson's birth and the song was 60 years old this year. It was during this tune that I noticed a very enthusiastic gentleman standing apart from the choir, smiling, singing and signing. It was hypnotic.

On the way in we'd noticed a large group of people using sign language, and so, the signer's presence made sense. Darren and Senan from ISL put more work in than anyone last night, communicating the lyrics and music of each carol through sign language in an inimitable style. Their round of applause (both claps and hand waving) at the end was well justified and the support from the community much appreciated.

Name the song this verse is from:

The sun is shining, the grass is green
The orange and palm trees sway
There's never been such a day
In Beverly Hills, LA
But it's December the 24th
And I'm longing to be up north
I didn't know until last night that this was the first verse of Irving Berlin's White Christmas. Neither did I know that the gifts for the 12 groovy days of Christmas ("remember, this was the 70s, okay?") were
Twelve lava lamps, eleven sticks of incense, ten sets of door beads, nine paisley blankets, eight disco balls, seven giant earrings, six leisure suits, five golden mood rings (oo oo), four Volkswagen bugs, three headbands, two platform shoes and an 8-track by the Partridge fam'ly.
Frosty the Snowman, a lovely version of Silent Night, O Holy Night, an emotional version of Breath of Heaven, O Come all ye Faithful (a song I haven't sang in Latin in about 15 years) and Ring Christmas Bells ("Is it wrong I wanted to sing the Garmin version?", Niamh asked me) rounded out the show. By the time Adeste Fideles came around, nerves had softened and the audience was louder than the choir.

Thought the concert was free, there was a charity collection on the night. The beneficiaries were the choir's costs, Gay Switchboard and MarriagEquality. Gay Switchboard has been in operation for 30 years and is Ireland's longest running LGBT resource. It's staffed entirely by volunteers (they're recruiting at the moment) and is an important resource for the community.

MarriagEquality is a single issue charity - granting equal marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples on the basis that lesbian and gay people and heterosexual people are equal in the law. "We may not want to marry", our MC told the audience "but the choice should exist.", promoting one of the biggest cheers and ovations of the night.

It's when he spoke of "increasing visibility of gay people in Ireland" that I finally got what Gloria is about. It's not a label or a tag, it's just a fact. From reading their website:
Glória was established to provide a safe and comfortable space for gays and lesbians to meet and sing together and to promote a positive image of gay and lesbian life in Ireland.
Last night they did just that. St Ann's was a welcoming place for fans, friends and family. There were many hugs shared afterwards, lots of greetings and catching up with people over a glass of mulled wine and a minced pie. Events with such warmth and support are rare in a very commercial Dublin, so the organisation of this concert was equally important for the choir, their supporters and those who love to hear good music.

Glória are performing their second 'Breath of Heaven' concert in St Ann's Church, Dawson Street on Thursday 18 December. Free tickets will be available on the door from 6pm but turn up early - if last night is anything to go by, they'll be gone in 15 minutes. You can find out more about supporting the choir here. I'm already looking forward to their next event!


  1. Sounds like a great night of singing!

    I never knew about the 12 groovy days of Christmas.... I am off to practice!

  2. I was there on Tuesday too - we have developed an awful habit of constantly missing each other...

    I *love* Glória - they really are wonderful, and the Christmas concerts are always fun.