Gillian McMahon, Senior Technology Consultant and Choir Singer

I love to keep myself busy – a trait that my parents definitely instilled in my siblings and I while growing up. In particular, there are two things I like to do, not necessarily to switch off from work, but to give my life a bit more perspective: Singing with Laetare Vocal Ensemble and road cycling.

With regards the cycling, I aim to get out on the bike every second Sunday. And no, before you ask, I do not cycle to work. Dublin city centre cycling is suicidal in my opinion. I have huge respect for my colleagues who do! Unlike The Netherlands, Ireland does not have the infrastructure at all to ensure cyclists are safe on the roads. If we did have the infrastructure, we would not need to introduce laws and campaigns like the Stayin’ Alive at 1.5. My interest in cycling actually stemmed from Holland! I used to spend every weekend and most evenings after school cycling around Wassenaar. Living in a country where around 99% of the population are cyclists meant this was not unusual, and there are hundreds of kilometres of dedicated and safe cycle paths.

Music has also always been a big part of my life and my family’s life; something I find quite interesting as we are a family of engineers/scientists: my dad’s background was originally in civil engineering, both my mom and sister studied electronic engineering, my brother is in the middle of his aeronautical engineering degree, and I took a science degree.

Hi, I am Gillian McMahon, Senior Technology Consultant in Deloitte. I have lived in Dublin for over 5 years now. I moved here after graduation for two reasons: firstly, in Ireland, Consulting is mainly based out of Dublin, and secondly, Dublin is a vibrant city that always has something on or something to do. Being the EMEA headquarters for some of the world’s most successful international tech companies makes Dublin a great place to network and meet other people from all over the world.

Although there are many things that I enjoy about living in Dublin – I will never stop being a Munster rugby fan, having grown up in Limerick! It is hard to describe the electric atmosphere and collective feeling that Munster fans bring to stadiums all around Europe, but most of all at home in the world-famous Thomond Park.

Thanks to my parents, I had the opportunity to try out a number of instruments starting from the age of 7: singing, piano, descant recorder, treble recorder, tenor recorder, harp, clarinet, and flute. It was the same for my siblings, however, they leaned more towards violin, guitar, piano, and drums. The three of us, in turn, were also members of the national Irish Youth Choir. My brother (20 years old) in particular has started writing and recording his own music, which is exciting. He posts his new tracks, covers, and experimentations of sound on his SoundCloud site – feel free to give it a listen!

My interest in singing started when I was 7 while living in The Netherlands. My parents enrolled me in a series of group master classes for 7/8 year olds in Leidschendam, which was run at the time by a well-known Dutch opera singer. It introduced me to the classical music path of pitch, tone, and music theory.

I have been rehearsing with Laetare Vocal Ensemble as a soprano 1 every Tuesday evening from 6:50pm – 9pm since September 2014. Laetare is a 25-30 person strong choir, made up of both male and females, conducted by the amazing Dr. Róisín Blunnie. Dr. Blunnie is head of the Music Department at Mater Dei Institute, Dublin City University. She studied choral conducting with Prof Péter Erdei and Dr Katalin Kiss at the Kodály Institute in Hungary and holds a Ph.D. in Musicology from Trinity College Dublin.

We rehearse for upcoming national and international competitions, gigs, recordings, and concerts. Through Róisín’s contacts and Laetare’s success to-date in competitions, we have been fortunate enough to be asked to sing backing vocals for various Irish artists at gigs and album recordings such as Vivienne Long and Ailie. We also got the opportunity to record our very own EP, which is available on iTunes, and most music streaming sites such as Spotify (see here).

Choir singing is a creative and collaborative outlet where we all work together as a team to produce the best quality sound that our conductor is looking for. I spend everyday in work with various technology systems and processes, so it is refreshing to participate in a completely different environment. It is also very fulfilling when the hard works pays off by recognition in a competition!

In Deloitte, our teams show unwavering commitment to each other for the benefit of our clients, and this is also something that is very evident in Laetare. All singers from each part (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass) make an unwavering commitment together to produce the best possible quality sound that we can for our conductor, Róisín, and the audience.

We compete all over Ireland in both national and international competitions. Luckily, Ireland hosts a number of international choir festivals/competitions every year, which we take full advantage of! Aside from meeting singers from other countries and getting the opportunity to listen to other choirs, one aspect I love about travelling to the competitions is getting to know a new city or town. It is a brilliant way to experience a new place.

Typically, an international festival lasts 5 days – often over a bank holiday weekend: from early Wednesday morning to late Sunday night, which gives you Monday to recover and return home. Although the festivals last 5 days, the competitions that Laetare enter usually occur all day on Saturday and Sunday. So Friday night after work, all Laetare-ians car-pool their way to the destination.

Sometimes we may have an hour rehearsal late Friday night before retiring to bed and preparing for the challenging two days ahead. The schedule for Saturday and Sunday revolves around the times that the competitions are at. However, an example Saturday schedule involves a very early start in the morning with a few hours of rehearsals, competition 1, lunch, another few hours of rehearsals, competition 2, dinner, warm up and competition 3, and then relax for the evening with a few drinks (usually with our conductor giving us the ‘stop talking, save your voice, go to bed’ eyes as we get closer to midnight…). Sunday’s schedule would be somewhat similar, perhaps with a slightly later start in the morning, ending with the awarding of the competition winners, and a big end-of-festival party from 10pm. There is nothing like a good sing-song session at 1am with perfectly pitched singers and many pianists!

You would not think it, but nutrition is so important at these events. You need to ensure you have enough fuel and energy throughout the day. If you think about it, you are singing for 8/9 hours a day – that is 16-18 hours in total over the weekend! Singing requires total concentration on vocal technique, on the direction of the conductor, on ensuring you are blending with the other members in the choir, and on ensuring you are singing the correct notes and words. If you lose concentration on any one of those items at any point, the quality of the sound from the choir will inevitably drop; something that any competition judge would easily spot. This ‘always on’ total concentration can be exhausting if you do not look after yourself nutrition-wise.

Dr Róisín Blunnie has got great taste in music so Laetare performs repertoire from Renaissance polyphony to contemporary commissions and arrangements. This includes the wide standard a cappella repertoire, choral sacred music, early music, music from around the world (Hungarian, Russian, German, French, Spanish, Irish, American), avant-garde music, Irish contemporary, and of course Christmas music for our annual Christmas concert! We are also very lucky that we have had the opportunity to work with a number of Irish composers, performing Irish and world premières of commissioned pieces for composers such as Seán Doherty and Rhona Clarke.

I admire conductors both in choral and orchestral form. I got the opportunity in 2016 to do a one-week course at the International Choral Conducting Summer School held at the University of Limerick campus annually. It really opened my eyes to how influential the conductor in a choir really is and to how much time it truly takes to prepare for only one choir rehearsal. There were around 10 people in the class, and we found that even though we were all conducting the same pieces, each individual ended up producing a different sound from the choir, transforming and shaping the piece in their own style. It was really fascinating! It is because of this that I have a newfound appreciation for all orchestral and choral conductors, especially Dr Róisín Blunnie.

You could also apply this concept outside of the music world – there are millions of similar projects in the world which all strive towards a similar goal. However, they all have different leaders. Each project leader has his or her unique leadership style in reaching the outcome desired. While the methodology of reaching the desired outcome may be similar in each of the projects, it is the way and style it is delivered which makes it different. I can guarantee you it is because of the influence of the leadership style of the project lead.

What has always given me drive and motivation in life is helping other people. In the words of Winston Churchill, “we make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give”. It is a quote that I like to refer back to often. I completed a B.Sc. degree in Health Informatics at University of Limerick because my interest was in applying information technology to helping people, particularly in health care. I feel that Consulting helps me to do this on a daily basis.

I am definitely not the best person to give advice to aspiring musicians… However, I would advise anyone who is looking to start something new, looking for something different from their day job, looking to get into music, or looking to join a choir – it is never too late! Start that instrument today, or join that choir by sending an email to the conductor to set up an audition. I always say if you are not sure about doing or starting something, just do it. You will be glad you did later. In Laetare, we have people from all types of professions: teachers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, optometrists, academics, engineers, consultants, etc. It is a great way to meet other people!

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