Arabella Voices - Composer reaching new heights with choir

By Hayden Moore 

When the Arabella Voices choir started nine-years-ago under the direction of Damian Gallagher, they managed to raise over €100,000 for families across the county during the recession, and have since gone on to perform sold-out shows in the National Concert Hall.

Damian is a composer and conductor that shot to stardom when Nationwide featured a documentary around the release of his Donegal Suite ‘Alanú’ which ultimately led to him performing a sell-out gig in the Concert Hall with a 50-piece choir and 30-piece orchestra.

Arabella Voices

Damien Gallagher (far right) with Arabella Voices 

The Tallaght man recently caught up with The Echo to tell us all about how Massey Brothers Funeral Directors originally started the choir to support the community, trying to suss out the theatre scene stateside and performing during the Papal mass in the Phoenix Park.

When did you initially get into composing?

It started about eight years ago and I just sort of fell into it. I started composing a few pieces and William Dowdall from the Royal Irish Academy had heard some of my compositions. He was just like ‘oh my god this is brilliant, it should be in the National Concert Hall’ and then I started working with Massey’s. They asked me to compose a piece for a funeral and then I started working with the choir.

When I started working on my Alanú Suite, which was all about my ancestry, Nationwide made a documentary about me and my ancestors from Donegal because that’s what the songs where about – and that’s pretty much how it started. Three-years-ago I went to Los Angeles to start pursuing film music and try to get a sense of that scene out there, but I have been side-tracked because of my theatre project since then.

What’s the project that you’re working on?

I’ve been working on a full musical so I’m just trying to get funding to complete that. I’m recording the concept album for the show and I’m hoping to get it into either Broadway or the West End when it’s finished.

Is it one of those things where you almost have to pinch yourself in disbelief that you get to be a composer every day?

I keep going back to this thing, like as an artist or a composer you can compose a piece of music but it is very different if you’re contracted because you can afford to make the music. I was lead orchestrator for the Papal visit, I composed the set and main theme for the Pope when he came. It can be very hard to get funding to do anything and that’s what is so great about Massey Bros. because they have helped and supported me with funding over the years.

It’s so refreshing that a local business is just thinking ‘yes we’ll support this young composer’ because they’ve spent thousands supporting myself and the choir as well. We can compose all this music but we have to print out all the paper and pay for equipment, and if there’s nobody there to pick up the tab then there’s no choir.

Do you find that it is a tough industry?

Like everything else it is very competitive and there’s always competition there but if something flops then that’s it, it just flops. Even Andrew Lloyd Webber has had stuff flop on Broadway. I never expected Alanú to do so well either and it did, I ended up playing sold out shows in the National Concert Hall - but yes, it is a difficult industry to break into, particularly with theatre production. The Arts Council wont fund anything commercial, so I could put a show on like Les Misérables and make €100million but the Arts Council won’t support me.

So, tell me a little bit about the choir ‘Arabella Voices’.

The Arabella Voices choir began life in 2010 as the Friends of Hope Choir, founded by two colleagues from Massey Bros. Funeral Directors as a way of celebrating the joy of music and raising money for local families in need. We did loads of charity concerts to help people during the recession because two of the Massey Brothers had gone into somebodies home and saw no carpet on the floors – children literally playing on concrete floors.

They just felt that they had to do something so they went around to all their branches and decided that instead of doing Kris Krindle, they would do something for individuals in need. They came to me and I started training them and it’s great to see how far they have come, from that first gig [at St Peter’s Church] in Phibsboro to selling out four nights in the National Concert Hall. They raised something like €8,000 in that first concert and went around giving €1,000 to each family, but we raised over €100,000 in total to give to families across South Dublin.

Tell us about Arabella Voices playing in the National Concert Hall last year?

It’s very difficult to get choirs booked into the National Concert Hall but how it about was Vladimir [Jablokov] was in recording some violin stuff for the musical, so that I could show the producers over in LA. He heard the choir singing on the track and was just like ‘wow who are they?’ and my friend Claudia Boyle had to tell him that they were my choir. So, they sung for four sold-out shows with Vladimir during his ‘Viennese Christmas’ show.

Do you feel as though this choir is a real community success story?

Yeah. The sky really is the limit for these guys because they are singing at such a level. We train in the Priory in Tallaght every Wednesday night. When the Pope came to visit, I asked the priest there if we could use the Priory to train in the run up to it and then I just asked him afterwards if we could continue using it and he said ‘of course!’.

They are so hugely talented like we have award winning singers from Tallaght in the choir – Kelly Hannon and Amy Costello, who are beautiful singers. It really helps that the community have come out to support this choir, the Priory and Massey’s, because we wouldn’t be able to do it without them.

‘Arabella Voices’ will be playing again in the National Concert Hall at the end of the year. See www.nch.ie for further details, or if you’re interested in joining the choir contact Olivia at 0868287151.

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