Britain's Got Talent and the Cashelard connection

Britain's Got Talent and the Cashelard connection
By Sue Doherty sue.doherty@donegaldemocrat.com @dgldemocrat

Veronica McCarron, the choir director wowing audiences around the world through her appearance on Britain's Got Talent, lives in Cashelard.

She took time out from her hectic schedule to chat with the Donegal Democrat's Sue Doherty about the experience on the famous tv show and her life in music.

The Kilkenny Presentation School Choir's phenomenal rendition of Karl Jenkins' Adiemus on the talent show on April 28 won them a standing ovation and praise from all four judges. The next day the girls got an equally warm reception when they performed in front of 60,000 people, including President Michael D. Higgins, at the Dublin v Kerry match in Croke Park.

Veronica was born in Enniskillen and raised in Scotland, so considers herself equally Irish and Scottish.

"My mother and father, Mollie and Charlie McCarron, were from Irvinestown," she explains. "They were from neighbouring farming families, married, and had thirteen children. I was born in Erne Hospital, Enniskillen but grew up in Glasgow, in a very Irish community. We always considered ourselves Irish and 'came home' every summer."

When she was just 15, Veronica got a scholarship to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. She became a full time student there at 18. After completing her degree, she embarked on a career as a music teacher, a job that took her all around the world, including the USA and Australia.

Although Veronica retired two years ago, she still travels up and down to Kilkenny, to spend two weeks each month at the Presentation, directing the Choral programme and the Vocal programme.

"I've been teaching for 43 years, the last 22 at the Presentation in Kilkenny, and I absolutely love it", she smiles. "There is something beautiful about girls singing. You transcend earthly things when you fully express a song, and choral singing really brings that out."

Veronica started the Presentation choir, with 50 students, in 1996 and there are now 300 students in the choral programme. She only auditions students to find out which voice type they have and doesn’t cut anyone. “Anyone who wants to be in the choir can be,” she smiles.

Over the years, the choir has gone from strength to strength. They've won RTÉ Lyric FM's Choirs for Christmas competition three times, Cork and Sligo Choral Festivals several times each, were named Top Choir at last year’s Feis Cheoil and were finalists in the All Ireland Choral Competition 2009 in Belfast. They’ve also sung for the President of Ireland at Áras an Uachtaráin, and been invited to perform in Carnegie Hall by Sir Karl Jenkins, composer of Adiemus.

"In fact," Veronica points out, "Karl Jenkins invited us the last two years in a row. We are one of just five choirs in the world invited to sing, while he conducts, at Carnegie Hall but, unfortunately, we couldn't go. We just didn't have the funds."

Thankfully, a kind sponsor stepped in to ensure that the Presentation Choir could travel to Birmingham to perform in front of the Britain's Got Talent judges.

"We were so delighted to make it through to the auditions: that in itself is such a wonderful achievement," Veronica recalls. "There were more than 20,000 applicants for this series, 8,000 of which were invited to perform in front of the producers. Then, just 400 were selected to perform in front of the judges."

The students - 57 of the choir’s 62 current members - excelled, with their beautiful voices showcasing the distinctive music and expressive movements adding to the experience.

Welsh composer Sir Karl Jenkins takes his musical influences from cultures all around the world and he uses a made-up language in Adiemus. Veronica made up a story to go with the song, with the gestures conveying aspects of the story.

Adiemus was used in the Avatar soundtrack, but not written for it, she says. "Karl Jenkins is great. His agent saw us performing Adiemus on YouTube last year and told him about us. That's how we got invited to Carnegie Hall."

Veronica prefers classical choral music - Latin, Irish and European - as well as jazz, rather than using popular music.

"Young people can listen to popular music any time. I want to give them something a little bit special, and also to impart the discipline of classical music. I also absolutely love pieces from the musicals."

Just how far the school choir will go in the Britain's Got Talent Competition remains to be seen but Veronica is already deeply appreciative of the huge support they're getting in Donegal.

"I moved to Carricknahorna seven years ago, and I absolutely love it here. The Saturday night we were on the show, my phone never stopped with my neighbours texting and calling before the show to wish us luck and say they were rooting for us. It means the world to have their support.

“In advance to the next round, we’ll set up a website for people in the Republic of Ireland to vote for us,” Veronica promises.

Veronica's grandmother was Mary Elizabeth Quinn from Donegal Town, and she still has cousins in the town, so the are plenty of people there cheering her on as well. As for the rest of us, we can't wait to see their next performance.