The History of The Clare Chorale
The Clare Chorale (or the Old Ballyclarians’ Association Choir as it was originally known) was formed back in 2003 when a number of former Ballyclare High School pupils who had taken part in the school concerts held in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall decided that they would like to continue singing on a regular basis. Sheelagh Greer, herself a former pupil, was approached regarding taking on the role of Director of Music and she happily agreed and an initial sixteen singers assembled in early September 2003 in the school music room, a place very familiar to the members of the newly-formed choir. Over the next few months, as word of the choir spread, the numbers attending practices increased steadily and in March 2004 the choir had its first major outing when it was invited to sing at the School’s very popular Spring Concert held in the Montgomery Hall. The first season culminated in the choir’s 1st Annual Charity Concert in May 2004. Entitled ‘Music in May’ it was held in Ballynure Methodist Church Hall and was a great success. Under Sheelagh’s expert tuition the choir soon gained a reputation for the quality and breadth of its music and this was reflected in the increasing number of engagements that the choir was asked to take part in.
In December 2006 the choir was invited to perform in its own right at the John Dallas Tribute Concert in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall. This event was organised by the school to acknowledge the distinguished career of John Dallas, following his announcement that he was retiring as Head of Music in the school. It was a showcase of the depth of musical talent that the school had produced over many years and it was a privilege for the choir, in only its fourth season, to be invited to take part on such an auspicious occasion. This performance enhanced the choir’s reputation still further with the benefit of gaining more new members as a result.
Early in 2007 a decision was made to change the image of the choir, so as well as new uniforms the new name ‘The Clare Chorale’ was adopted, with the new look being officially launched at the Bangor International Festival in April 2007. Numbers in the choir continued to grow as did the choir’s strength in vocal maturity and gradually its quality began to be recognised well outside the boundaries of Ballyclare as engagements for church events and concerts were accepted across Northern Ireland and as far as Cavan in the Republic of Ireland. This also included participation in a recording of the BBC’s popular Sunday series, Songs of Praise. April 2013 saw The Clare Chorale embark on its first tour as it crossed the sea to Scotland for a concert and church service in St Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Dundee.
Over the years many wonderful singers, musicians and bands have been guests at the choir’s annual concerts and fundraising events. These have included local singers such as Fr. Eugene O’Hagan from The Priests, Niamh Perry, star of numerous musicals in the West End of London and most recently Karl McGuckin who had the starring role in Jekyll and Hyde in the Grand Opera House in 2017.
The choir has always been keen to support local charities in a wide variety of events organised by churches and other fundraising bodies. Numerous charities and good causes have been assisted directly in the years since the choir’s formation with many of them being chosen from suggestions made by choir members. Nominated charities in recent years have included the Children’s Hospice, MacMillan Cancer Support and the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance.
Over the years the choir has maintained strong links with Ballyclare High School with its first president being Mr GCG Millar, a former headmaster of the school and a very accomplished musician in his own right. Mr Leslie McAdoo MBE took over from Mr Millar as president at the end of the 2016 season. Leslie is well known in musical circles in Ballyclare and much further afield as he is a long standing member of Ballyclare Male Choir which also meets in the school.
The choir now numbers in excess of fifty singers who regularly meet in Ballyclare High School throughout each school term. Sheelagh Greer has been inspirational over the years since the choir’s formation and with her musical connections across Northern Ireland the choir has been exposed to a wide and varied audience. The future of the choir looks secure.