WHEN the Big C Choir performed in Keadeen Hotel recently there was a strong Kilcullen interest. The choir has six Kilcullen members, and they’re very proud to be involved in what was just one woman’s idea a few short years ago.
“It’s like being a member of a big family,” says Sabina Reddy, a cancer survivor who became involved after the choir was formed. “We are all there to support each other, both those who have been through cancer directly or the family members and friends whose lives have been affected by cancer.”
Sabina also notes the satisfaction of being able to do something that gives back to various cancer support services.
Pat Kelly, another Kilcullen cancer survivor who, with his brother John have been well-known local musicians since they were children, is also a member. “Being in the choir has helped me and many others involved to ‘get out there’ again,” he says. “We also performed live for the RTE Mass on Sunday in February and that was a really great experience.”
Along with Sabina and Pat, John Kelly also performs with the choir, as do locals Mary Touhy, Francie O’Brien and gifted young Kilcullen harpist Leah O’Sullivan.
A recent presentation of cheques to Newbridge Cancer Support Group and to the Jack and Jill Foundation was the latest chapter of the Big C Choir story. A story which began in 2009 when founder Christina O’Connell from Caragh was told she had breast cancer.
“I had always been involved with singing, and with the church choir in Caragh for 13 years,” she recalls. “But the diagnosis caused me to step back from that. It was about a year later that I got the thought of maybe putting together a choir of people who are cancer survivors, or families and friends who had been affected by cancer.”
During that particular year or so, whenever she was at a low ebb in her treatment, Christina often listened to Fr Liam Lawton’s rendition of Heal us, Lord. So with the idea of what was to become the Big C Choir germinating, she got an immediate positive answer from him when she suggested that he might sing at their first concert if she got the concept to that stage.
“I then mentioned it to Clem Ryan of KFM, who interviewed me on his programme. From then, wheels began to turn.” Albeit a little slowly at first. At the first meeting, just five people turned up.
“I nearly stopped then. But a friend said to stick with it. And we did get to have that first concert, in 2012 in Caragh Church with about 20 in the choir.” Fr Liam Lawton came through on his promise for that night, and Mary Kennedy was the MC of the evening.
Today the choir has a membership of 54, of which 16 are men — “yes, it’s always hard to get men for a choir, but those we have are just wonderful.” The singers are from all over the mid-Kildare region, Naas, Newbridge, Kilcullen all featuring strongly.
Christina’s original idea had been to have a concert to raise money for cancer support causes. An idea which to date has raised some €64,000 for a variety of cancer and serious illness causes. The most recent annual event, held in Keadeen Hotel on 19 May, meant that the Newbridge Cancer Support Group received €7,000 and the Jack and Jill Foundation was given €3,000.
“It couldn’t happen without the support of so many people, particularly the audiences who come along to hear us. But there are many others, and at the risk of leaving someone out I have to mention KFM who always give us publicity, and Toughers who give us a room every Tuesday to rehearse in, at no charge. And Millbrook Press have also given us great help, as are many other businesses and all the hotels in the region.”
For the choir members themselves, it is also a mutual support. In many cases, cancer leaves its survivors with a loss of self-confidence, but Christina says getting together for their rehearsals is a big help towards regaining that confidence.
For the audiences, there’s a strong emphasis on giving them music to which they can relate. So in addition to a number of the ‘Heal us, Lord’ kind of songs, the repertoire includes much from musicals and movies. “They give us great feedback,” Christina says of those who come to listen and support the concerts.
Music is powerful stuff. It soothes, uplifts, and helps people forget whatever difficulties are going on in their outside worlds. Especially in the form of choir, it is community.
In the Big C Choir, a thought has become a very special community in its own right.