50 Years of Tallaght Choral Society
“GLORY BE TO TALLAGHT”
This was the heading in the Sunday Tribune of Ian Fox’s review of the special concert in the National Concert Hall to celebrate Tallaght Choral Society’s 21st Anniversary of major performances. By that time the choir had given performances of major choral pieces such as Messiah; Creation; Elijah; Requiems by Brahms, Mozart and Fauré; Vivaldi’s Gloria, Bach’s St John’s Passion and by now had performed regularly in the Concert Hall. From its humble beginnings as a church choir in Dominican Priory Tallaght in 1967, the choir had far exceeded the dreams and expectations of its handful of founder members.
Liam Fitzgerald, who succeeded Fr. Dónal Sweeney OP (pictured, left) as Musical Director in 1969 had embarked on a project to perform the Messiah in the Tallaght Priory. His extraordinary vision, drive and teaching ability coaxed the small choir to progress from singing part-songs to learning more challenging music. His enthusiasm was shared by choir members and a very active committee. The first performance of Messiah in Tallaght with the Dublin Baroque Players and leading soloists on 25th Nov 1971 to a packed Priory Church, was the first step in the musical story of TCS. During the next ten years Liam introduced the choir to the major choral works for the annual performance in the Priory with repeat performances at provincial venues.
Today’s choir is proud to have inherited a proud tradition of choral singing and choir development thanks to the great experience and encouragement of each of its past Musical Directors : David Jones (1982–85); James Cavanagh (1985–1995; 2001–2002) Gráinne Gormley (1986–2001); Mark Armstrong (2002–2015).
It was David Jones who first introduced the choir to competition—Navan (1st Prize) and Cork—and followed this with the first visit to perform in the NCH with Bach’s St. John Passion with the Irish Chamber Orchestra.
James (Jimmy) Cavanagh was responsible for the major development and transformation of the choir by introducing two concerts per year, with regular performances in the NCH and accepting regular invitations to sing in RTÉ concerts and others. The ‘Mahler Tour’ of Waterford, Cork and NCH as guests of the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland with Albert Rosen was an exciting highlight, followed by the ‘Messiah for Somalia’ at the Point with massed choirs. During this period new compositions were commissioned and performed: Gloria by Rhona Clarke (1991) and De Profundis by John Buckley (1994).
“A Tenner for a Tenor” was a slogan for a major recruitment campaign when Gráinne Gormley (1996-2001) proposed a performances of Israel in Egypt (Handel) and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with choruses for large choir. With an increased membership of 120+ it was now possible to perform works for large choir and orchestra. Annual concerts in the Concert Hall continued with numerous invites from RTÉ for ‘Theatre Nights’ etc.
Mark Armstrong (Director in 2002–2015) with his expertise and brilliant teaching skills brought the choir to a new level of competence. Collaborations with other major choirs followed and provided memorable occasions and opportunities to travel and perform in other cities e.g. Verdi’s Requiem with Liverpool Welsh Choral Union; Brahms Requiem with Royal Edinburgh Choral Union; Carmina Burana with Belfast Philharmonic and East Cork Choral Union; Elijah with Sligo Choral Society; Messiah with Tokyo Choral Society and Mahler 8 with massed choirs in Tallaght’s Basketball Arena. A trip to sing in Vienna as part of the Adventfest in the Rathaus and invitations to take part in Croke Park events—Special Olympics Opening Ceremony and ‘Stars, Choirs and Carols’ for massed choirs were fun events for all involved. Mark’s farewell concert in collaboration with Bel Canto Chorus from Milwaukee, feautred a performance of Lux Aeterna, by Morten Lauridsen, a living composer, another new experience for the choir.
Because of the extraordinary bond formed between the members of Tallaght Choral Society and each musical director, changes when they occur bring sadness at the departure followed by a period of re-adjustment to a new style and pastures new.
All the popular choral works have been performed by each generation of the choir e.g., Messiah; Creation; Elijah; Requiems by Brahms, Mozart, Fauré; Vivaldi’s Gloria; Bach’s St John Passion; Carmina Burana, Mahler Symphony No.2; Rossini’s Stabat Mater, and choral works by Handel, Schubert, Puccini, Mozart, Haydn etc. in addition to music by Charpentier, Starvinsky, Bruckner, Duruflé, Dvorak, Rutter etc. In all, the choir has performed in 150+ concerts.
The choir was fortunate to have performed with other conductors e.g. Albert Rosen, Alexander Annissimov; Gerhard Markson, Mark Shanahan, Stephen Barlow, Proinnsias Ó Duinn, David Brophy, Gearóid Grant, Michael Bawtree and others.
Memorable occasions were provided by the performance of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto by Brian O’ Rourke in 1978 in Tallaght and Waterford; the visit of tenor Ian Partridge as Evangelist in 1980 in Bach’s St. John Passion in Tallaght and Sligo and the performance of two trumpet concertos by John Wallace in 1993 in Tallaght and Waterford.
The founder members could hardly have imagined that the choir would go on to perform so many of the great choral works. Current members would be surprised to hear how the choir and its leadership negotiated the uphill struggle of those early years: weekly rehearsals without an accompanist; weeks learning the notes of one chorus; the excitement of performing with orchestra and reading reviews of music critics after performances in Tallaght Priory; heavy lifting involved in transporting, building and dismantling of the sturdy choir stand which served the choirs needs for forty years. The invitation to repeat the Messiah in the famous Embankment Pub (famous venue for folk music etc in Tallaght area) was gracefully declined! The decision to purchase a new ‘state of the art’, easily assembled, choir stand provides us with an invaluable resource for the future.
The choir has always been closely linked to activities in Tallaght; providing music at the opening of the present Priory Church in 1969; St. Aengus’s Church in 1975 and St. Martin’s Church in 1975; an Annual Carol Service in Dominican Priory; Annual November Mass of Remembrance in the Priory; Christmas Music in the Square; Opening of Rua Red; Tallaght composers workshop; Tallafest. Local establishments—Cuckoo’s Nest; Penny Black and Molloys Fox’s Covert (table quiz and Christmas music) have all hosted enjoyable choir extra-curricular activities
Our present Director, the youthful Lynsey Callaghan with her passion, energy and musical ability has committed herself to the task of leading Tallaght Choral Society into the future. Her weekly ‘musicianship classes’ contribute to the enjoyment on Monday nights. The composer Ola Gjeilo b.1978 whose Sunrise Mass which was composed in 2010, was part of our recent concert and was enjoyed by singers and audience alike—the composer sent his best wishes to the choir in advance of the concert.
The present choir members will resonate with accounts of shared passion and enthusiasm for choral singing, friendly ‘family’ atmosphere and good humour in the choir along with dedicated and hardworking chairpersons and committee members and the enjoyment shared at Monday night rehearsals in the familiar surroundings of Dominican Priory in Tallaght.