Bringing a Tune to Troon
by Gill Sherry
I arrive in Troon a little early for my appointment with Rock Choir Leader, Lauren McGarrigle. I walk at an unnaturally slow pace towards Walker Hall and then purposely take the long route around the outside of the building, pausing to watch the kite surfers before spending a moment of reflection at the war memorial.
I’m still slightly early as I open the door of the grand Municipal Building, but I instinctively quicken my step, impatient to find the source of the wonderful sound that floats through the corridors and fills the stairways.
I’m already smiling when I reach the rehearsal room where Troon’s Rock Choir is singing a truly memorable version of Maroon 5’s ‘She Will Be Loved’. It is one of the most uplifting sights and sounds I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness. The combined singing voices of the sopranos, bass, upper and lower altos is truly exquisite but the joyous expression on the face of each choir member tells its own story.
Lauren McGarrigle is the authoritative but encouraging figure at the front. She too is smiling, clearly enjoying her role as Rock Choir Leader, a fact she affirms when we sit down together at the end of the session, once the buzz of excited chatter has finally vacated the room.
“They’re so much fun to teach,” she tells me. “I couldn’t ask for a better bunch. They’re just great and they’re always up for it.”
In addition to the Troon choir, Lauren also teaches at Ayr, Kilmarnock and Irvine.
“I’ve enjoyed singing since I was a baby. My first one-to-one singing lesson was when I was eight. Being able to sing for my job is just great.”
Lauren was introduced to Rock Choir by her cousin who was the first Leader in Scotland. She then progressed from member to Leader when the opportunity arose to audition.
“I’ve studied music my whole life. I took a year out once I finished my diploma to look after my nana. I was her carer. I used to do a lot of music therapy for her because she had dementia. That was when I got the call asking if I wanted to audition for Rock Choir.”
That was over three years ago and she now has more than 200 members split between her four Ayrshire choirs.
The Rock Choir concept was the brainchild of Caroline Redman Lusher. Set up in 2005, membership now exceeds 33,000 with choir sessions taking place in over 400 destinations.
“People can come along that have never sang in their life,” Lauren tells me. “It’s free for the first session so you can give it a go and see if you like it. You don’t have to read sheet music and you’re not put on the spot. It’s not just about the singing.”
But surely you need some sort of singing voice to join?
“We would never turn anyone away,” she confirms. “Some people take longer to get there than others. Everyone struggles with the choir dynamic when they’re not used to it, it takes a lot of concentration. But there’s not a whole lot of experienced singers in this choir.”
Having seen the choir in action, it’s hard to believe it’s not a professional outfit. Testament, I suppose, to Lauren’s teaching skills.
Immediately after the session, choir member, Carol Gibson, had this to say: “We’ve got the best Rock Choir teacher, she’s so talented. And the choir is so good for my mental health, I get so much out of it.”
Lauren is also a firm believer that singing is good for physical and mental health.
“When you’re singing, you have to be conscious of your breathing. I teach a lot of vocal and breathing technique. It really improves your lung capacity. I’ve got a lot of asthmatic members who swear by it. Also, you’re using your core a lot when you’re singing.”
As for the mental wellbeing aspect, this was particularly evident after the session when a lively feel-good atmosphere filled the room.
“It’s the most heart-warming thing, the friendships they’ve all made with each other. It’s not a strict, scary choir. It’s about the experience and the fun. I think that gives space for more close friendships and for people to bond.”
Keeping your brain healthy through singing, Lauren tells me, can also help to prevent dementia.
“I worked in a dementia care home for a while. People can be non-verbal, non-communicative, and then you play a song and they’re up and they’re singing and dancing. Music is great for the brain and music is the last part of your memory to go. It’s important to keep your mind stimulated.”
But don’t be fooled into thinking Rock Choir is only for those of a certain age. Lauren’s choirs have members aged 19 to 80, although, she does admit they are mostly female and would encourage more men to join.
“It sounds amazing when there’s men, it adds a whole other harmony.”
After your free trial session, it costs £10 per 90-minute session over a ten-week term and there are three terms (spring, summer and autumn). Rock Choir Troon meets at Walker Hall on Tuesday afternoons at 12.30. Lauren’s other choir sessions are:
Irvine – Fullarton ConneXions, Tuesdays 7.30pm
Ayr – Ayr Academy, Wednesdays 7.30pm
Kilmarnock – Kay Park Church, Thursdays 7.30pm
The great thing is, if you’re a member of one choir, you can attend other sessions free of charge. Ideal if you’re unable to attend your usual session or if you think you would benefit from extra practice.
The songs for each term are chosen in advance by Rock Choir’s creative team, ensuring each individual choir is singing/performing the same songs. The songs for the next term are ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ (The Buggles), ‘Shake it off’ (Taylor Swift), and ‘Going Loco down in Acapulco’ (The Four Tops). I must admit, they all lend themselves pretty well to the unique Rock Choir sound.
Of course, the purpose of each session is to perfect the songs with the aim of performing in front of an audience. That said, there is no pressure for members to perform.
“They’re not mandatory,” confirms Lauren. “Some people don’t actually want to do it, they just love coming along for the laugh, to see their friends, and to have a good sing. They find it therapeutic.”
For those who do choose to perform, however, there are numerous opportunities to do so.
“There are a number of performances per term with multiple performances in summer and winter. In the summertime… we do lots of things on the beach. We perform at marathons and gala days, and we’re at the Fringe in Edinburgh.”
Having experienced the atmosphere of an informal rehearsal, I can only imagine how it must feel to take part in a ‘proper’ performance.
“They’re absolutely buzzing after it,” Lauren tells me. “People get quite emotional too.”
I’m not at all surprised. After hearing the choir’s rendition of ‘She Will Be Loved’, I was fortunate enough to also hear ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. Not only did the hairs stand up on my arms, but a lump formed in my throat and my eyes welled with tears. It’s difficult to put a finger on why I felt so emotional. I think, perhaps, the collective sound was so unexpected and the singers so passionate that I was just blown away.
Rock Choir exists not only for singing but also for fun, community, friendship and life-changing experiences. As for Lauren, she concludes with this simple statement:
“I’m a singing geek, I just love it!”
For more information, find ‘Rock Choir Irvine, Ayr, Kilmarnock and Troon’ on Facebook or visit www.rockchoir.com.