The Big Sing

Caz addresses

Doesn’t a Big Sing sound like the greatest thing ever?

And that’s what it is – a group singing experience that will leave you feeling lifted, restored, and – well, just plain happy. The Big Sing is the brainchild of Caz Jeffreys, the director of the choir I belong to, AcapellaBella. Caz is amazing – she has perfect pitch, she teaches us our parts without any requirement to read music (or even be a good singer), she can give us our notes on the fly if we’re wobbling, she plays several instruments and has great rhythm.

Sopranos

She also has a philosophy about singing and community – one that emphasises inclusivity and the joy of participating in a choir. As they say in West Cork – ah sure, you know yourself, like, you can’t come away in a bad mood from an evening’s singing. Caz directs several choirs around West Cork and last year she got the idea to bring them together for a community event she called The Big Sing. It took place in Bantry as part of the Feel Good Festival. You’ll get a good idea of how that went and see an interview with Caz by watching this videoThis one, the second Big Sing, was yesterday in Clonakilty – indoors because it was too wet for the scheduled town square – and it helped to wrap up Wellness Week.

Everybody’s getting in the spirit of the Big Sing

We started with a choreographed dance from West Cork Inclusive Dance. I’ve mentioned this group before, when I wrote about the moving and excellent performance of Bridge in Ballydehob. The WCID group includes both able-bodied dancers and those with intellectual or physical disabilities.

The dance begins

The dance started in a circle, with the dancers stirred to life by a breeze – breeze music was supplied by The Happiness EnsembleOne by one they came alive until the whole circle started to move in unison. Uniting in a tight group, except for three dancers, they moved forward into the audience, as if intent on a single purpose.

Dance movement forward

The three dancers left behind sought them out.

Three dancers

Finally the whole group came together, first low on the ground and then rising up to their final triumphant stance. It was beautiful and we hooted and hollered and applauded while the dancers hugged and high-fived.

Hands raised

For the Big Sing that followed, several of Caz’s choirs had come from various communities – Ballydehob, Kinsale and Ballincollig, as well as the choirs from Dunmanway and Castletownbere with their leader, Jane Goss (another of the Big Sing project facilitators). But it wasn’t just the choirs – the dancers joined in and the audience too, and lots of people from the local community groups that Caz worked with to support their involvement in the project. It was uplifting and energising to be in such a large group with everyone singing their heart out and Caz up front encouraging us all and giving us our cues and keeping us on key and on the beat. The music for the Big Sing was provided by a drumming group from the National Learning Network.

Caz and Jane

Caz gives us our cue, with Jane Goss leading the singing from the stage

She had chosen the music well – several of the songs related to all our struggles to stay cheerful in the face of both everyday trouble and the huge challenges that face the world. It was emotional  – lots of tears by the time we’d finished Stand By Me – but ultimately inspiring and cheering.

Singing!

They LOVE to sing!We LOVE singing!

Read more about Caz and her approach to music on her website – and if you live in West Cork and love to sing, consider joining one of her choirs. There’ll be another Big Sing in October, so even if you don’t have the time for a regular commitment, you could come and learn the Big Sing songs with us before the event. Just get in touch with Caz. 

After a practice, I promise you that you’ll go home in a good mood!

Young members

Just like this little dancer!

Bridge

The Famous Twelve Arch Bridge in Ballydehob

The Famous Twelve Arch Bridge in Ballydehob

Recently, as part of the Ballydehob Country Music Festival (although the connection may be a little tenuous) we noticed posters going up around the town for a dance to be performed on the famed Twelve Arch Bridge. The dance company, Croi Glan (Kree Glan – pure heart) had more information on their website:

Professional dancers from Croi Glan, 5 musicians performing live, Croi Glan’s aerial dancers suspended from the bridge on rope and harness and aerial silks, and 40 West Cork Inclusive Dance Group community performers from COPE, CoAction and the local West Cork area, 25 of whom have intellectual disabilities, in a once-in-a-lifetime, hugely ambitious project directed by Tara Brandel, a native of Ballydehob.

Intrigued, I sought more information on Croi Glan. Here is a piece from TG4, the Irish language television station, that illustrates what the company is all about:

We arrived at the Pier to find that the whole of Ballydehob had turned out. The place was rocking, with live entertainment, gourmet hot dogs and a wine bar. While the morning had been overcast, by early afternoon the clouds had parted and brilliant sunshine added to the festive atmosphere.

Siobhan Heapes

Siobhan Heapes

The dance started with a local singer, Siobhan Heapes, singing on the walkway over the water, calling the dancers. One by one and in groups they arrived on the walkway and we began to appreciate the diversity of the troupe – some professional and balletic, some in wheelchairs or with mobility difficulties, some with intellectual disabilities. Together, they told a story: a story of bridging and transcending differences, of supporting each each other, of honouring the part each played in the dance. 

The dance begins

The dance begins

The stage became larger and larger, as the dancers occupied the green spaces around the walkway, and then moved onto the bridge itself.

Using the whole space

Using the whole space

Two dancers were lowered over the bridge –  a heart-stopping moment – and then yellow silks unfurled and their bodies twined and moved with the silks as we watched entranced from the Pier and Siobhan provided the haunting musical background.

Aerial dance

Aerial dance

The finale had all the dancers back on the walkway for one final movement together of intense communication, lifting and balancing each other, paying a last homage to the theme of Bridge. And suddenly it was over and we erupted into possibly the most enthusiastic standing ovation I have ever been a part of. It was loud, it went on and on and then on some more. Some us were in tears, all of us were smiling and turning to each other and searching for superlatives to describe what we had just witnessed. 

Finale

Finale

There were flowers, and speeches. Tara Brandel said she had “never been prouder to be from Ballydehob.” We lingered, chatted with the dancers, congratulated Tara (it was hard to get close to her) and her assistant choreographer, Mary. People took a long time to disperse – something had stirred us all in that way that makes you want to hang on to the feeling as long as possible.

Mary Nugent, Assistant Choreographer

Mary Nugent, Assistant Choreographer

Perhaps it was, as Tara explains in the YouTube video above, that when you watch a Croi Glan performance, you are operating entirely in your heart.