Conor O’Shea, Software Engineer and Choir Singer

Singing is something that I think comes naturally to nearly everyone if they start young. People generally think that singing is simply a talent that is bestowed upon others, speaking of a “lovely voice” where they would never tell a pianist they have “lovely fingers”! Certainly, singing comes more easily to some than others, but singing relies so heavily on a deep understanding of music, tuning, and rhythm (not to mention control of breathing and posture). It requires a certain amount of training, even if that training is not necessarily formal. In my case, I have only done a small amount of formal training and have mostly learned through singing in choirs.

My name is Conor O’Shea and I’m a software engineer living and working in Dublin. When I was finishing school, I had no idea that I would ever end up a software developer. I had no real intention of doing anything that didn’t involve music! I came to a compromise with my parents and put Music and Maths – a dual subject degree – as my first preference. I didn’t think much about the fact the points for the course were extremely high. I put Engineering down as a backup and didn’t think about it again until after the Leaving Cert! Lo and behold, the points for maths courses jumped up that year – I found myself with a place in engineering, a course I had never really thought about doing. I was annoyed for a couple of hours, but it soon wore off. From then on, I embraced engineering.

All this was where I first got the idea that software development might be for me. I loved the pure logic of the computer engineering modules – I decided early on that I would specialise in Computer Engineering.

Outside of my job, I love choir singing. I started musicianship classes at age 4 in a music school in Rathmines. These would have involved something resembling choral singing and learning the basics of music. I took up piano and started with a choir a couple of years later. I have been singing in choirs ever since. I choose to focus on singing because it’s simply fun and sociable. I love the process of working on music as a group and performing it together.

Somewhat surprisingly, I don’t really listen to any music and don’t follow any musicians with any particular vigour. As such, the people who have a musical influence on me are the people around me. Particularly, I have huge respect for the conductors of the groups I sing with. The conductor of my current group, Roisin Blunnie, is a masterful musician. I learn so much from her during our practices.

My favourite genre to sing is a close call between gushy dramatic choral music and cheesy pop that’s everyone’s guilty pleasure. I love the amazing sounds that a choir can create when singing more “traditional” choral music, but there is something simply fantastic about singing a goofy Backstreet Boys cover to a crowd who grew up listening to that music. It becomes more of a collective experience!

Joining the Irish Youth Choir in the summer before my final year in school was when I realised that I was really interested in choral music. It is a week-long residential course run by some of the best instructors in the country – it concluded with a number of concerts around Ireland. It was a big step up for me and made me realise how exciting choral music could be.

As a result, I joined every choir I could find when I started university. I got a scholarship to sing in the Chapel Choir; I also joined the Trinity Singers, which was being conducted by Roisin Blunnie at the time. Lots of friends from Irish Youth Choir were there too – it was of an equally high standard, so it solidified my love of choral singing.

I am also a founding member of the Trinitones, a choral group which started in January 2012. I still hold the record for longest-serving member at 5.5 years! My standout choral singing experience was a tour in Australia with the Trinitones. It was my final act as a member and was the perfect culmination of 6 years of development of the group. It also acted as something of a changing of the guard, where a large group of people who started in the first couple of years passed over to the next generation! We rented 2 Hiace vans and drove from Sydney to Melbourne, stopping off for radio interviews and concerts along the way. Our biggest and final concert was at the Athenaeum Theatre in Melbourne – definitely the most enjoyable concert of my life!

I like to be part of a group that is growing and progressing. Laetare Vocal Ensemble, which I sing with now, is a young group going from strength to strength – I am excited to be part of that.

Similarities between singing and my current occupation are the importance of good group cohesion and having a clear group identity which members are proud of. Singing in choirs has also taught me not to be embarrassed about mistakes, but to do what you need to do to make sure you don’t make the same one again!

Choirs are there for everyone who would like to join one. They’re everywhere and are always looking for people. Yet, everywhere I go, I seem to bump into people who are intending to join a choir at some point, and have been for about a decade. I think this is because we feel particularly exposed when singing, and the thought of something like an audition just tips people over the edge of anxiety. In reality, many choirs don’t even audition – if they do, it’s often more about hearing where your voice would fit best into the choir, rather than passing judgement on your singing voice.

Tech is one of those fields that can be both work and hobby. It’s possible, even easy, to construct a whole life around tech. This can be great, but it can also create pressure for those of us working in tech to be all-knowledgeable! It’s great to see the benefits that a diversity of pursuits and knowledge can bring to the tech world.

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