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An Cor

Monday, 8 March 2010

An Cor is a new 4 part series starting tonight on RTE One at 7.30pm. Today we are joined by judge Blathnaid and two members of Ireland Unlimited choir - Hazel and Deirdre.

An Cor

"Presented by Fiachna Ó Braonáin (Hothouse Flowers), AN CÓR features the experiences of six choirs as they immerse themselves in the culture, language and history of traditional Irish songs such as "Báidín Fhelimí", "Óró, Sé do Bheatha 'Bhaile", "An Poc ar Buile", "Bean Pháidín" and "Beidh Aonach Amárach".

In each of the first three shows, two choirs compete against each other. Each choir must rehearse the song, learn and understand the words and get the pronunciation right before the judges select one to go forward to the final. The judges are John Fitzpatrick, Bláthnaid Ní Dhonnchadha and Rónán Ó Snodaigh.

While they're rehearsing, Fiachna travels the country to learn the back story of the songs themselves and mentors the choirs as they attempt to impress the judging panel with their final polished version. The three successful choirs from the heats compete in the final show, when one choir is crowned the winner and receives the AN CÓR trophy and 1000 euro prize money.

Programme 1 - Ireland Unlimited and Sligo Golf Club

In episode one the all-female choir Ireland Unlimited take on the County Sligo Golf Club Male Voice Choir in the ultimate battle of the sexes.

The ladies of Ireland Unlimited perform "Óró, Sé do Bheatha 'Bhaile" and in Dublin presenter Fiachna Ó Braonáin traces the history of the marching song Pádraig Pearse wrote for Óglaigh na hÉireann.

The men of the County Sligo Golf Club Male Voice Choir perform "Peigín Leitir Móir" and Fiachna journeys to the Conamara Gaeltacht to meet the descendants of the woman behind this iconic traditional song.


John Fitzpatrick
John has been involved in the Cork Choral Festival for nearly 35 years and Festival Director for the last 15 years. An Arts and Music Graduate of U.C.C., John has broad ranging experience as a choral conductor, judge and lecturer. He is also noted for his commitment to community choirs and is considered Ireland's most experienced adjudicator at international level. In 2008, John was named Cork Person of the Year as a result of his work with the Cork Choral Festival.

Bláthnaid Ní Dhonnchadha
Bláthnaid began her TV career as a fashion reporter on TG4's 'Síle' show, presented two series of the very popular show 'Paisean Faisean' and has recently been involved in the station's newest fashion offering 'Stíl na Realt'. Born in Clare and living in Galway, Bláthnaid was a presenter of RTÉ One's 2009 traditional music series 'The Reel Deal'.

Rónán Ó Snodaigh
Dublin-born Rónán is a prolific musician, writer and performer in both Irish and English. He has traveled throughout the world performing with many musicians including Zakir Hussein, Lisa Gerrard plus bands Dead Can Dance and of course, the legendary Kíla. Rónán has recently finished a soundtrack for a three part nature series that will be broadcast on RTE spring 2010". RTE PRESS

The first episode of An Cor is on RTE One at 7.30pm.

Bláthnaid Ní Dhonnchadha

Tell me a bit about the show An Cor?
It is a four part show - a musical based show and six choirs entered. They were each given a traditional Irish song to arrange and perform. We were to judge them on the arrangement and performance and their use of Irish in the performance. It's myself John, Ronan and Fiachra is the presenter on the show.

What kind of music are you interested in?
I grew up with traditional and classical music. I did my degree in music as well. I have done choir work for many years as well. I was a member of many different choirs over the years. I listen to all different types of music. I sing classical and seanos myself. It's interesting to see their approach to it.

What were you looking for in a good choir?
The challenges that I was seeing was that usually traditional songs are performed by a soloist and there's a lot of orientation and I was looking for a choir that would be together for the orientation aspect of it. It would be a skill and they have to be in sync. They would also have to show that they have an understanding of the song and know the background to the song.

Any particular highlight that stood out for you?
I think the standard overall was amazing. As a judge I was entertained by what we saw. Each choir had different things to offer us as well. The amount of rehearsal time and effort that went in and all the energy that went in was really impressive. I came away thinking that I was very impressed with all the work that people put into choirs in their spare time. It was very interesting to be a part of this series.

Were you the kind judge?
All the judges came from different backgrounds and there was nothing we argued about as we all had similar feelings and emotions from what we heard. In general we all agreed but also on the other hand I wasn't afraid to say what I really felt. To be honest they were all so good that it was hard to pick too many faults with them.

Hazel : Member of Ireland Unlimited

Tell me about Ireland Unlimited - when did you form?
It has been around 11 years ago since last January. Our musical director started it off. We are from all over the Republic of Ireland but we are based in Kilkenny. We have no one from the North of Ireland yet but that is no problem but we would love that. We have members from Mullingar, Athlone, Cork and Wicklow. I am there about 4 years and I am also in a Barbershop too. We all are actually. We all meet once a month to practice in Kilkenny to practice for a full day.

How many are in the choir?
There are 48 in the group.

Do you sing at functions?
Not really at the moment because we are from all over Ireland. We have our convention which is in October and we perform there and we are International Champions at that - we won that last October. Last year we went into the Cork Coral Festival which we will do again in May and we won the Light Entertainment and Jazz. The An Cor competition is the first time we have done anything like that. We don't really do gigs as it's awkward but we would love to.

Why did you decide to take part in this series?
One of the girls got an email about it and we all thought it was a great idea and a challenge for us. We also thought it was really interesting to be doing something in Irish. About 4 or 5 of the girls are from England and one from the North and for them to learn Irish was a great challenge. Even some of the pronunciations for myself was difficult. It was a great challenge to see how much I would remember from my school days.

Are their men in the choir?
No in competition it's either men or women but for singing at social occasions you can mix.

Was there a Simon Cowell amongst the judges?
No no - I don't think so, they were all so generous with their comments. I think a few girls fell in love with Fiachra. It was a great experience for us all.

Do you think you have picked up some Irish from this experience?
I think I have picked up a bit more Irish and it has renewed my enthusiasm and I am hoping to take it up again. I was also pleased how much I remembered.


When did you join the Coras?
I joined the coras about 8 years ago.

How often do you practice?
Ireland Unlimited meets once a month but I also sing with a local coras called Sweet Auburn and there would be ten of the members of that in Ireland Unlimited. So when we meet on a weekly basis we would also have a run through the material of Ireland Unlimited.

An Cor was all performed through Irish - how did you find that?
I was familiar with both the songs beforehand which made it easier for me. The biggest challenge for us was to try to agree on the pronunciations. Support was offered by the production company. Because the nature of the coras there was members from all over the country so there was mighty debate over pronunciations. Once we had agreed it was a lot easier. Also understanding what the words meant helped a lot. Also when we explored the interpretation of the story it meant it was easier to learn.

What did you learn form taking part in the series?
I think I developed a deeper understanding of the language. A number of the coras found it harder to learn the songs and when we explained the meanings behind the words and why particular phrases went together that was of great interest to me.

What were the judges like?
We were not fearful of any of the judges. They were all so accomplished in their own rights. Ronan was a great appreciator of music and he was also a performer which meant that it was great to see what his opinion was. All of the judges were valued and respected for their opinions