Local talent in spotlight for annual music fest

Moycullen soprano Saoirse Knauer and conductor and organist Mark Duley who’s originally New Zealand and now lives in Headford, will be centre stage this Saturday when the St Nicholas’ Singers perform Gabriel Fauré’s renowned Requiem in the ancient city church as part of Music for Galway’s Mid-winter Festival. They tell JUDY MURPHY about their musical journeys.

Local talent will be to the fore this Saturday when Faure’s Requiem is performed in St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church at 4pm as part of Music for Galway’s annual Midwinter Festival.

Moycullen soprano Saoirse Knauer will join Swiss baritone Benoit Capt for the solo roles, while the St Nicholas’ Community Choir will be conducted by Headford’s Mark Duley, the organist and director of music at St Nicholas’s. Mark has played a key role in reviving the church’s historic choral tradition, via the St Nicholas’ Schola Cantorum which was established in 2012 and is made up of five ensembles.

Saoirse, who has a double-honours BA in music and Irish from Maynooth University and a Master’s in Primary Education, sings locally with the St Nicholas’ Schola Cantorum, as well as with Cois Cladaigh and the Galway Baroque Singers, so it’s no surprise when she says, “it’s hard to imagine what it would be like not to be involved in some sort of singing”.

Her mother Dorothy (Dottie) also sings with St Nicholas’ and  teaches music in Galway Technical Institute. Dottie is a great believer in the importance of singing and music for people’s wellbeing, her daughter explains.

Saoirse’s father Ray O’Donnell is director of music at Galway Cathedral, so music has been part of her life since she was a tot.

“My mother says I could sing before I could talk,” she says with a laugh, adding that she could hum a melody at the age of two and became an active choir member aged six or seven.

“I was at the back of the St Nicholas’ Choir reading a book when a woman came up with a folder, gave it to me and marched me up front,” she recalls.

Saoirse attended Scoil Iognáid and later Coláiste Iognáid in the city for primary and secondary school, where she benefited from a “brilliant music programme”.

After Leaving Cert, she went to Maynooth University, based on the strength of its music programme, doing her degree in Music and Irish. She was involved in various choirs there, competing and enjoying the social aspect too.

After graduating in 2016, she successfully auditioned for a vicar position with the St Nicholas’ Schola Cantorum, under Mark Duley’s direction.

Pictured: Saoirse Knauer who has been singing with the choir in St Nicholas’ since childhood and served in the Vicars Choral there from 2016-2019, singing with the adult choirs and training young choristers. PHOTO: JOE O’SHAUGHNESSY.

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