I have always enjoyed singing. As a five year old I sang a solo in the school nativity play – a fact my mother had to remind me of recently. In school I loved joining in carol singing for charity at Christmas time. I always had plans in the back of my mind to join a choir when I was in college. Then studying and my social life and sleeping took over. I never got around to it.
Like thousands of Irish young people I moved to London from Dublin in 2011. I came without a job or a place to live but I was lucky to have a close group of friends who had made the move before me. In one sense it was amazing having so many likeminded people around me. It was easy to go along hanging around with the same people I have known from school and university. Their company was fantastic in the beginning but after a while I realised that I could have been living anywhere. I had no real link to the amazingly diverse community that was around me in Southwark.
When people ask me how I like living in London I always tell them that London is the world – if it exists somewhere it exists here. Even my local supermarket stocks varieties of food that could coexist nowhere else. Clonakilty black pudding sits alongside the makings of ugali much like this Corkonian girls sits alongside Ethiopians and Pakistanis and born and bred South Londonders on the bus each morning.
I started to realise that if London were ever to feel like home, I needed to stop living in a little Irish bubble and start making connections with the people who lived around me. I remembered the choir thoughts that had lurked in my head for years and took to the internet and searched.
I wanted a choir that made everyone feel at ease – no matter how slowly they learned the melody or unique their voice was. I wanted a choir that reflected our community – young and old and from all walks of life. I wanted a choir that made me feel at home in Southwark and in Koruso! I found a choir that not only did all these things, but had the message of inclusion and togetherness at it’s very roots.
Today Koruso! is an independent self-run choir, but when it was founded in 2008 it was supported by Southwark Council as a way to bring people together outside of traditional boundaries like class and religion. On my very first evening with Koruso! we sang everything from Verdi to the Beatles and traditional folk songs. Since then we have performed music written by choir members and music written by kings. We have echoed the sounds of African trains and the chiming of Big Ben. Koruso! sings a repertoire that reflects our members – a little bit from all over.
I suppose the most important question is do I feel at home now?
When I joined Koruso! I suddenly had friends who were neighbours. I had friends who were pensioners and young mothers. I had reason to venture to corners of London that could have remained names on maps. I had exciting opportunities to perform in iconic venues like the Royal Albert Hall and the Royal Festival Hall. I have made a space for myself in this community and all it took was that first little leap into the unknown. I can look around me and know that this is my city.
Ultimately though, the answer is in our music. You can’t help but feel at home when your ears buzz with the harmonies of the people around you and your song rises with a single voice.